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  • Krisha Janaswamy

Culture and Attachment

- Krisha Janaswamy

Attachment behaviours are adaptive to the context in which they are formed. Habits and behaviours that are adaptive in childhood, in an evolutionary sense, can turn maladaptive and harmful in adulthood.

There are also considerable differences in attachment styles across cultures. In Western culture, there is a focus on single attachment to the mother. Unfortunately, having a single, responsive and sensitive caregiver does not guarantee that the child will be secure and emotionally adept.

Studies show that in places like Israel, Denmark and East Africa, where children have multiple caregivers, they grow up, not only feeling secure but also develop “more enhanced abilities to view the world from multiple perspectives.” This is also evident in hunter-gatherer communities, where mothers are the primary caregivers but share the responsibility of ensuring the child’s survival with several other allomothers.

In rural India, where ‘dual income rural families’ are the norm, the children automatically have four-six caregivers from whom they can select their attachment figure.

While it has been argued for years, and differences between cultures remain, the three fundamental aspects of Attachment Theory remain universal:

1) The sensitivity hypothesis: “Infants become securely or insecurely attached based on several factors, the most important of which is the mother's ability to sensitively respond to the child's signals (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). For example, suppose the infant perceives danger and signals for help. In that case, security stems from the mother's accurately perceiving and appropriately responding to the child's need for help promptly.”

2) The competence hypothesis: “Secure Children become more socially and emotionally competent children and adults than do insecure children. Studies conducted in the West have indicated that secure children tend to be more autonomous, less dependent, better able to regulate negative affect, less likely to have behavioural problems, and more likely to form close, stable peer relationships than those who are insecure (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999).”

3) The secure base hypothesis: “According to Bowlby (1982) and Ainsworth et al. (1978), infants are likely to explore their environments when they feel sufficiently protected and comforted by their mother's presence. When threatened or otherwise stressed, infants seek proximity with their caregivers. In this conceptualisation, the attachment and exploration systems are inexorably linked. If mothers are unable to provide their infants with a sense of safety--a secure base from which to explore-- infants' exploration is not appropriately responsive to environmental difficulties, and autonomy from the mother is compromised (Seifer & Schiller, 1995).”

In conclusion, culture influences attachment in multiple ways. It affects the way the parents demonstrate attachment as well as the way children respond to it. This occurs due to the interactions of values beliefs as expected in the cultural environment. Many of these practices have been passed down from generations because they result in positive attachment results.

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