QUESTIONS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF MOTHER-INFANT BONDING
The strength of the bond forged between mother and infant in the months following birth has long been seen as a predictor of the child's future emotional well-being. But the results of a study by child development expert Michael Lewis, PhD, call in to question this long-cherished belief, adding fuel to an already raging debate over the import of this early attachment.
Lewis studied 84 children, who were examined at age 1, in terms of maternal attachment, and again at 18, in terms of their relationships to family and friends. The researcher found that a secure bond at age 1 did not prevent maladjustment in adolescence, nor did an insecure attachment during infancy predict trouble during the teen years. Secure attachment in the early years is measured by how the baby reacts after being separated from his mother for a short time, and then reunited. Babies who cry, but are quickly comforted by the mother's presence, are considered securely attached. Those who cannot be comforted when the mother returns, ignore the mother or are ambivalent to her, are considered insecurely attached.
Of the 84 children in the study, 49 were considered securely attached and 35 insecurely attached at age 1. When examined again as high school seniors, 57 percent of the securely attached infants were deemed well-adjusted and 43 percent maladjusted in terms of their relationships with family and friends. Of the insecure 1-year-olds, 74 percent were found to be secure as high school seniors and 26 percent insecure.
Lewis, who is Director of the Institute for Child Development at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, contends that experiences such as divorce, disease and accidents are far more important to the child's development than the early maternal bond. There has been a growing interest in the field of attachment, since many children are left with caregivers while both parents work.
A review of other studies on bonding can be found in Lewis' book, "Altering Fate," (The Guilford Press, 1997).
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey