Stages Of Attachment Identified By Schaffer

August 5, 2021 - Paper 1 Introductory Topics in Psychology | Attachment

Stages of Attachment (Schaffer):


Even though the time after birth is a very special, important time for parents to bond with their new baby, the overall process of the formation of attachments takes longer in human infants, and it is around 7 to 8 months before babies how their real first attachments. Schaffer and Emerson identified that infants go through a number of stages of attachment.

Key Research Study: Schaffer and Emerson (1964)


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Aim: An investigation into the different stages of attachment.


  • Longitudinal study of 60 babies drawn from a predominantly working class are of Glasgow.
  • At the start of the instigation, infants ranged from 5 to 23 weeks of age.
  • Infants were studied until the age of 1 year.
  • Mothers were visited every four weeks.
  • At each visit, the mother reported their infants response to separation in seven everyday situations (e.g. being left alone in a room, left with other people)
  • Mother was asked to describe the intensity of any protest (e.g. a full blown cry or simple whimper) which was then rated on a four point scale.
  • Finally, the mother was asked to say whom the protest was directed.
  • Stranger anxiety was also measured by assessing the infant’s response to the interviewer at each visit.


  • Between 25 and 32 weeks of age, about 50% of babies showed signs of separation anxiety towards a particular adult (usually the mother which signified a specific attachment).
  • Attachment tended to be to the caregiver who was most interactive and sensitive to infant signals and facial expressions (reciprocity). This was not necessarily the person the infant spent most time with.
  • By the age of 40 weeks 80% of the babies had a specific attachment and almost 30% displayed multiple attachments.

Conclusions: The conclusion of the study was that attachment develops in stages. These findings led Schaffer and Emerson to develop the Stages of Attachment.

Stage and AgeCharacteristics
Asocial Stage(First few weeks)·Baby is recognising and forming bonds with its carers·Baby’s behaviour towards humans and non-human objects is similar.·Show some preference for familiar adults in that those individuals find it easier to calm them.·Babies are also happy when they are in the presence of other humans.
Indiscriminate Stage(2-7 months)·Display more observable social behaviour.·Show a preference for people rather than inanimate objects and recognise and prefer familiar adults.·Usually accept cuddles and comfort from any adult·Don’t show separation or stranger anxiety·Indiscriminate because it is not different towards any one person.
Specific Attachments(7 months onwards)·Baby begins to show separation anxiety (protests when primary caregiver leaves them)·Fear of strangers develop.·Began to form specific attachments (not necessarily the individual who spends the most time with the infant but the one who interacts with the infant the most).
Multiple Attachments(by 1 year)·Multiple attachments follow soon after the first attachment is made.·Baby shows attachment behaviours towards several different people secondary attachments (e.g. siblings, grandparents, child-minders etc )

Evaluation of the Research into the Stages of Attachment (AO3, Evaluation):

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(1) POINT: A problem with Schaffer and Emerson’s theory of the stages of attachment is that the asocial stage is difficult to study. EXAMPLE/EVIDENCE: For example, young babies in this stage have poor co-ordination and are generally pretty much immobile. It is therefore very difficult to make any judgements about the infants based on observations of their behaviour (there isn’t much observable behaviour).EVALUATION: This is a weakness because the evidence obtained from the observations cannot be relied upon and therefore it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions.

(2) POINT: A further weakness is that there is conflicting evidence from different cultures on multiple attachments. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, there is no doubt that children become capable of multiple attachments however; it is not clear at what age this happens. Some research seems to indicate that most babies form attachments to a single main carer before they become capable of developing multiple attachments. Other Psychologists, in particular those who work in those cultural context were multiple care givers are the norm, believe babies form multiple attachments from the outset. EVALUATION: This is a problem because the presence of cross-cultural differences in child-rearing means that it is difficult to produce a theory that is applicable to all cultures (collectivist and individualist), therefore Schaffer and Emerson’s theory can be criticised as being ethnocentric.

(3) POINT: Another weakness is that there are difficulties in how multiple attachments is assessed. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, just because a baby gets distressed when an individual leaves the room it does not necessarily mean that the individual is a ‘true’ attachment figure. Bowlby (1969) pointed out that children have playmates as well as attachment figures and may get distressed when a playmate leaves. EVALUATION: This is a problem for Schaffer and Emerson’s stages because their observation does not leave us a way to distinguish between behaviour shown towards secondary attachment figures and shown towards playmates.


Next, take a look at the role of the father in attachment formation with infants and multiple attachment formation.

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