Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview

31
Cross-Cultural Patterns
of Attachment

Universal and Contextual Dimensions

MARINUS H. VAN IJZENDOORN

ABRAHAM SAGI

It was in Uganda, a former British protectorate in East Africa, that Mary Ainsworth (1967) began to create the famous tripartite classification system of “avoidant” (A), “secure” (B), and “resistant” or “ambivalent” (C) infant–mother attachment relationships. In her short-term longitudinal field study, carried out in 1954–1955, she found three patterns of attachment behavior in a small sample of 28 infants. The “securely attached group,” consisting of 16 children, cried infrequently and seemed especially content when they were with their mothers. Secure children also used their mothers as a safe base from which to explore the environment. The “insecurely attached group,” consisting of 7 babies, cried frequently, not only when left alone by their mothers but also in the mothers’ presence; they cried to be picked up and then cried when they were put down. These babies wanted continuous physical contact with their mothers, but at the same time seemed ambivalent about their presence. A “nonattached” group consisting of 5 infants responded similarly to their mothers and to other adults. For example, they were not upset about being left alone by their mothers and did not respond to the mothers’ return in any specific way. In fact, from Ainsworth’s detailed case studies of these 5 nonattached infants, it can be inferred that in the strange situation procedure (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978) they would have been classified as avoidant.

Ainsworth’s Uganda study raised some important cross-cultural issues, the first being the universality of the infant–mother attachment relationship and the tripartite classification system. The second issue was the universality of the nomological network surrounding the concept of attachment. Ainsworth (1967) clearly initiated her famous Baltimore study to test the replicability of her Uganda results in another, Western culture. In so doing, she was particularly interested in documenting the crucial role of maternal sensitivity as an antecedent of attachment. The third issue raised by the Uganda research was the culture-specific or contextual dimension of attachment development. It is surprising to see that even in the Uganda study, the presence of multiple caretakers did not interfere with the development of a secure attachment (Weisner & Gallimore, 1977). After Bowlby’s (1951; see also Robertson & Robertson, 1971) report on the disastrous effects of fragmented institutional care, the Uganda study showed for the first time that the decisive factors for attachment security were not the number of caretakers per se, but the continuity and quality of the mother–infant interaction. Ainsworth (1967) considered her study as the beginning of a cross-cultural search for an-

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