Infancy and Childhood

Summary Infancy and Childhood

Based on her observations of infants’ behavior in the Strange Situation, Ainsworth described three types of attachment patterns:

  1. Secure attachment: Most infants in the sample had a secure attachment to their mothers. These infants expressed unhappiness when their mothers left but still played with the stranger. When their mothers returned, the infants looked happy. The infants displayed greater attachment to their mothers than to the stranger.
  2. Anxious-ambivalent attachment: Some infants showed a type of insecure attachment called an anxious-ambivalent attachment. These infants became upset when their mothers left but resisted contact with their mothers when they returned.
  3. Avoidant attachment: Other infants showed a type of insecure attachment called an avoidant attachment. These infants didn’t seem upset when their mothers left and avoided their mothers when they returned. Researchers did not see a significant difference in the way these infants treated their mothers and the stranger.

Culture and Attachment Style

Culture can influence attachment style because different cultures have different child-rearing practices. Ainsworth’s research in the United States showed that most of her white, middle-class sample of infants had a secure attachment to their mothers. However, in Germany, where parents encourage independence from an early age, a much higher proportion of infants display an avoidant attachment, according to Ainsworth’s classification. In Japan, where infants rarely separate from their mothers, the avoidant style is nonexistent, although a higher proportion of anxious-ambivalent attachments occurred than in the United States.

Separation Anxiety

Whether they are securely attached or not, most babies do experience separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is the emotional distress infants show when they separate from people to whom they are attached. Separation anxiety typically begins at about six to eight months of age and reaches peak intensity when an infant is about fourteen to eighteen months old.

Gender Development

Sex isn’t the same as gender. Sex refers to a biological distinction between males and females. An example of sex difference is the timing of puberty. Because of biological processes, girls’ sexual organs mature before those of boys. Gender refers to a learned distinction between masculinity and femininity. An example of gender difference is girls’ and boys’ attitudes toward dolls. Very early on, American society teaches boys that playing with dolls is considered a girlish thing to do. Gender stereotypes are societal beliefs about the characteristics of males and females.

Gender Differences

Some gender differences exist, although certainly not as many as stereotypes suggest. For example, starting in preschool, gender differences arise in play behavior. Boys prefer playing with boys and girls with girls. Boys prefer to play with boyish toys like trucks and girls with girlish toys like dolls. Different people give different answers for why this is so:

  • Researchers who emphasize biological differences between the sexes say that these preferences arise from biological factors such as genetics and evolution, prenatal hormones, or brain structure.
  • Researchers who focus on cognitive development believe that these preferences exist because boys and girls develop different gender schemas or mental models about gender.
  • Researchers who study learning think that environment produces these preferences. They point out that almost from the moment of birth, girls and boys receive different treatment. Gender preferences, these researchers say, simply reflect what society teaches children about gender.

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