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Attachment in the early years
Attachment in the early years

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A focused, enduring and emotionally meaningful relationship between two people, characterised by seeking to gain or maintain proximity through physical contact or communication. Mother–infant attachment is an important concept in Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation. The Strange Situation Test (SST) is one way of assessing whether an infant has formed a secure or an insecure attachment with the caregiver.
A general concept concerned with all forms of knowing: for example, attention, perception, memory and thinking.
In Piaget’s theory this refers to the understanding that quantities remain the same despite transformations (e.g. the volume of a liquid remains the same, irrespective of the shape of the container). Young children’s inability to understand this is considered by Piaget to show egocentrism.
Environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (EEA)
In evolutionary psychology this refers to the environment of our hominid ancestors, which has shaped the psychological mechanisms present in modern humans, through the process of selective pressure.
The study of animal behaviour in the natural environment and, in particular, the ways in which certain behaviours may be adaptive in terms of promoting survival. Imprinting is an example of such behaviour.
A term used in ethology to describe a phenomenon observed in some species of bird where the young, soon after hatching, have a strong tendency to become attracted to a particular moving object and thereafter to follow it. Bowlby drew a parallel between imprinting and mother–infant attachment, and this idea was influential in his theory of maternal deprivation.
Internal working model (IWM)
The term used by Bowlby to suggest that infants form representations of relationships early in life based, in particular, on the relationship with the primary caregiver. There are three elements: a model of the self, a model of ‘the other’ and a model of the relationships between the two. The IWM developed in infancy forms a template for future relationships, although some modification is possible.
The ability to understand the mental states of others, which is specifically used to describe caregivers who treat their infants as individuals with minds, rather than merely entities with needs that must be met. There is some evidence for a link between a mother’s mind-mindedness and her infant’s development of theory of mind. It is one component of maternal sensitivity.
Natural experiment
A study in which researchers take advantage of naturally occurring events, rather than themselves manipulating variables. Twin studies are an example.
Strange Situation Test (SST)
A research method carried out in a laboratory playroom. The child, with its mother, is confronted with an adult who they have never seen before and is then left by the mother with this stranger, before being left entirely alone. The child’s responses to this series of increasingly stressful events are observed. The child is then reunited with the mother. This method has been widely used in attachment research and particularly in research that focused on individual differences. It has been criticised for its lack of ecological validity, the failure to take into account the mother’s behaviour and its narrow data base.
An imbalance between a person’s perception of the demands a situation makes of them and their perceived ability to cope with it.