The Nature of Individual Differences
in Infant–Caregiver Attachment
NANCY S. WEINFIELD
ALAN L. SROUFE
ELIZABETH A. CARLSON
Developing an attachment relationship with a caregiver in infancy is a normative phenomenon. Almost every infant will develop an affective tie with a caregiver, and will endeavor to use that caregiver as a source of comfort and reassurance in the face of challenges or threats from the environment. The nature of the affective tie and the effectiveness with which the caregiver can be used as a source of comfort in the face of danger, however, differ across infant–caregiver dyads. These variations are individual differences in the quality of attachment relationships.
This chapter describes the nature of individual differences in infant–caregiver attachment as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth conceptualized it in their theory of attachment. It reviews how individual differences are described and assessed in infancy, as well as the meaning of attachment classification as an assessment of relationship history. This chapter also discusses theoretical predictions regarding the meaning of individual differences in early attachment relationships for subsequent relationships. Bowlby’s theoretical perspective on continuity is discussed, and empirical support for these theoretical claims is briefly reviewed.
IN ATTACHMENT: DEVELOPMENT
An initial distinction between the presence of an attachment relationship and the quality of an attachment relationship is important. According to Bowlby, a human infant will form an attachment to a caregiver as long as someone is there to interact with the infant and serve as an attachment figure. Forming attachments is strongly built into the human repertoire through evolution. Children will be unattached only if there is no stable interactive presence, such as is the case in certain kinds of institutional rearing. For all others, even those who are mistreated, attachment relationships are formed with caregivers. Individual differences in these attachment relationships are dependent on and reflective of differences in the history of care.
Individual differences in attachment relationships do not arise suddenly, nor are they carried solely in the traits of the infant or the caregiver (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969/1982; Sroufe & Waters, 1977). The patterns of interaction are built out of a history of