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Have you ever wondered if a child who is insecure and anxious, has these difficulties due to an unfortunate interaction between parents and children, or if the difficulties are an expression of innate traits in the child? Is it at all possible to determine whether a child's difficulties are due to attachment behavior or innate traits that come from the child's temperament or personality? 

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This is what psychologist Anne Mari Korbøl Torgersen asks in an issue of the Journal of Norwegian Psychological Association. 

The psychologist himself answers this question that it is impossible to answer with certainty whether the child's tendency to insecure attachment is due to unfortunate interaction between caregivers and the child, if attachment is measured by the questionnaire method instead of by interview or observation.

She further emphasizes that some research shows that attachment is influenced by inheritance, and that development of children's attachment are complex - and not as simple as one might get the impression. In other words, she rejects that insecure attachment is always due to the fact that "the parents have failed" in meeting the child in a good way.

Attachment vs. temperament 

As a backdrop for her article, Anne Marie Korbøl Torgesen points to some direction in psychology that became very important throughout the 1900th century: 

Bowlby was a theorist who focused on how caregivers' behavior could help create unfortunate development in the child. In these theories, the concept of "attachment" has been given a large place, and an important thought is that the child develops insecure attachment when it does not meet its emotional needs - especially in infancy. On the other hand, theorists Chess and Thomas focused more on how innate qualities that the child carries with him from birth play an important role in explaining the child's development throughout life. In this theory, the term "temperament" has an important role. 

In psychology, there is rarely one theory that has the answer to everything! Moreover, a theory is only a theory, and must be supported by research findings in order to have scientific value.

Torgersen claims that there is research that both supports the view that insecure attachment is closely related to unfortunate interaction experiences, and that there are also other studies that provide support that the same problems may be related to innate characteristics (temperament).

Different forms of insecure attachment?

The form of insecure attachment where the feelings are absent (attachment avoidance) is more dependent on experiences, while the emotionally unstable (attachment anxiety) is more affected by inheritance, writes Torgersen.

In other words, it emphasizes that it is important that clinicians who work with children and families can have a vision for both perspectives: Children's maladaptation can have their cause in unfortunate interaction experiences, but can also have their cause in that children have a high degree of congenital vulnerability.

Part of the message to the psychologist therefore lies in the importance of making thorough assessments when a child has attachment problems, as opposed to jumping to the conclusion that this must be due to inadequate care.

Therefore, she recommends that attachment assessments must not be limited to questionnaires, but must be supplemented with in-depth interviews with the caregivers in addition to observations about the interaction. 

Genetics contributes to the development of attachment styles

That good and sensitive care is good for children, one does not need references to claim. But the processes in the development up to adulthood are not as determined as one can sometimes get the impression of, the psychologist claims. 

Attachment is not an unambiguous concept, writes Torgersen. - It is also not clear which factors contribute to creating individual differences in attachment patterns. The hypothesis about the sensitive mother has received a lot of attention. It emphasizes that sensitive care in infancy is crucial to the quality of later social behavior. 

The psychologist emphasizes that contributions from genetics can also help to increase the understanding of what leads to the development of a safe or insecure attachment.

Treatment must take into account both the quality of care and the temperament of child

Torgersen concludes that development of attachment styles are complex, and that when assessing the individual variation in what we call attachment behavior, one must take into account that much of the variation is due to hereditary traits in addition to good care.

She also emphasizes that there will not be one and the same form of care that is best for everyone, and that the good infant care does not provide a full guarantee for later positive development.

She concludes that:

Such considerations are important for an increased theoretical understanding of the complex interactions that underlie development processes and potentials for change, of how a person in his or her life course develops into a safe or insecure person.


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