Internal Working Model: The Influence Of Early Attachment On Later Life Relationships

January 1, 2021 - Paper 1 Introductory Topics in Psychology | Attachment

The Influence of Early Attachments on Later Relationships (Description, AO1):

The quality of a child’s first attachment is crucial because this template will powerfully affect the nature of their future relationships (the internal working model). To learn more about the Internal Working Model as proposed by John Bowlby, click here.

A child whose first experience is of a loving relationship with a reliable caregiver will tend to assume that this is how relationships are meant to be. They will seek out functional relationships and behave functionally within them (without being too emotionally involved or emotionally close).

A child with bad experiences of their first attachment will bring these bad experience to bear on later life relationships. These individuals may struggle to form relationships in the first place or they may behave inappropriately when they have managed to form relationships.

Relationships in Later Childhood: Attachment type is associated with the quality of peer relationships in childhood.

Attachment TypeChildhood Behaviour
Secure Attachment· Form the best quality childhood friendships· Unlikely to be a part of bullying behaviour (according to Wilson and Smith (1998) who used standard questionnaires in 196 children in London aged 7-11).
Insecure-Resistant· Form poorer quality friendships· Most likely to be bullies (according to Wilson and Smith’s (1998) questionnaire research.
Insecure-Avoidant· Form poorer quality friendships· Most  likely to be victims of bullying (according to Wilson and Smith’s (1998)  questionnaire research)

Relationships in Adulthood with Romantic Partners:

Hazen and Shaver (1987) conducted the ‘Love Quiz which aimed to investigate the impact of early attachments on later life adult behaviour.

Procedure: 620 replies to the Love Quiz printed in an American local newspaper were analysed. The quiz had three sections. The first assessed the respondent’s current or most important relationship. The second part assessed general love experiences such as the numbers of partners and the third assessed attachment type by asking respondents to choose which of three statements best described their feelings.

Findings: 56% of respondents were identified as securely attached, 25% insecure-avoidant and 19% insecure-resistant. Those reporting secure attachments were the most likely to have good and longer lasting relationships. The avoidant responses tended to reveal jealousy and fear of intimacy.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the patterns of attachment behaviour are reflected in romantic relationships.

Relationships in Adulthood as a Parent:

Internal Working Models also affect the child’s ability to parent their own children. People tend to base their parenting styles on their internal working model so attachment type tends to be passed on through generations of a family. Bailey et al (2007) tested this idea. They assessed 99 mothers with 1 year old babies on the quality of their attachment to their own mothers using a standard interview procedure. The researchers also assessed the attachment of the babies to the mothers by observation. It was found that the mothers who reported poor attachments to their own parents in the interviews were much more likely to have children classified as poor according to the observations. This therefore supports the idea of an internal working model and the fact that early attachments can shape our later life relationships.

Evaluation of Research into the Influence of Early Attachment on Later Relationships, (Evaluation, AO3):


(1) POINT: A weakness is that the evidence on continuity of attachment type is mixed. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE:  For example, some studies do appear to support continuity and so provide evidence to support internal working models. However, Zimmerman (2000) assessed infant attachment type and adolescent attachment to parents. The findings indicated that there was very little relationship between quality of infant and adolescent attachment. EVALUATION: This is a problem because this outcome is not what would be expected if the internal working models were important in development.

(2) POINT: Another weakness is that most studies of the influences of early attachment on later relationships lack validity. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, many assessments of early attachments and current day attachments rely on the use of questionnaires and interviews (self-report methods) as a means of categorising participants as a specific attachment type. EVALUATION: This is a weakness because this data is retrospective (data that relies on the participants memory i.e. they are reporting events from the past that will be used as data in an experiment), there is a high chance that the data being collected in these studies is inaccurate and therefore calls into question the validity of the research findings.

(3) POINT: However, a problem with research assessing the Internal Working Model is that association between early and later life attachments does not always mean causality. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, there are alternative explanations for the continuity that is often observed between infant and adult attachments. A third environmental factor such as parenting style might have a direct effect on both attachment and the child’s ability to form relationships with others. Alternatively, the child’s temperament may influence both infant attachment and the quality of later life relationships. EVALUATION: This is a limitation because it is counter to Bowlby’s view that the internal working model causes these later outcomes.

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