A Summer in Review

This was my second summer working for the Healthy Beginnings Lab. Overall, this summer I had more confidence in my knowledge of the Glass Task experiment were are continuously running, of scheduling for the lab, family drawing coding, coding in general, and data entry. I learned new skills such as data entry, and honed others such as recruitment for the lab which involved making a recruitment plan and pitching our experiment to different institutions or organizations that might help us advertise our study to mothers and kids. Last summer, I was one of the newest members in the lab, and felt very unsure of myself, particularly while running participants. By the time this summer rolled around, I was tasked with leading scheduling and recruitment efforts for the lab, as well as most training efforts for new members who joined us in May. Additionally, I got to experience grant-writing for a second time when I, under the supervision of Dr. Danielle Dallaire, proposed a third condition to the Glass Task experiment that will compare mother-child interactions over video call and in-person that we hope to begin piloting soon. It is hard to believe how quickly time has passed and how much our lab has accomplished since I joined it.

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Week 8: Wrapping Up the Summer

My last full week of the summer was largely spent wrapping up the projects I had been working on, finalizing recruitment protocols, and checking out books and articles about the underlying theory my lab employs in its work. I read more of some original lectures given by John Bowlby compiled in the book A Secure Base, which I wrote about in my previous blog post. Bowlby was a psychologist and researcher who established much of modern attachment theory in the field of psychology, while drawing on the current theories and experiments of his time, such as Ainsworth’s Strange Situation. He writes in these lectures about attachment generally, and how it is influenced by family structures and parenting styles. I enjoyed reading about his experiences with patients who had been raised by parents who employed various methods of controlling their children, such as threats of abandonment, abuse, or the expectation of total obedience, to name a few.  Through these clinical interviews by himself and other psychoanalysts, Bowlby was able to identify key symptoms, general attachment styles, environmental influences, and thought patterns that were typical of individuals who experienced these types of home environments as children. These individuals displayed various types of attachment security, which Bowlby was able to outline and provide examples of. The three types of attachment and their consequences throughout the life course that Bowlby addresses in A Secure Base are secure attachment, anxious resistant attachment, and anxious avoidant attachment. A securely attached child to his or her mother/father/parental figure views them as a secure base from which to explore the world, meaning that the more secure the base, the more the child ventures from it, trusting that they will receive comfort and security from that figure upon return (Bowlby 167). Anxious resistant attachment occurs when a child is unsure of the reception they will receive from a parent or caregiver, which may spur very whiny, clingy behavior from the child, as well as a predisposition for separation anxiety (Bowlby 167). Parental behavior that may lead to a child’s anxious resistant attachment style could include a mix of warm interactions and separations of parent and child, or threats of separation/abandonment (Bowlby 167). Since the child experiences uncertainty as to the caregiver’s response, s/he becomes clingy in order to avoid the feared separation. Lastly, anxious avoidant attachment occurs when a child believes that they will never be the recipient of a warm response should he turn to a caregiver for support or comfort (Bowlby 167). A child operating within this type of attachment style may attempt to be entirely self-sufficient, at times clingy, tense, or even passively helpless (Bowlby 167-168). The author emphasized that he felt nothing but compassion for these parents who, as supported by empirical research, were likely acting out the cycle of violence, abuse, or neglect to which they had been subjected themselves. Our Glass Task experiment builds on this research, so I spent time at the end of my summer collecting sources from the library to peruse before I return at the end of the month.

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Week 7 – A Secure Base

Much of this past week has focused on running participants in the Glass Task, the main project in the Healthy Beginnings Lab, and reading more literature in my spare time to learn more about the theoretical framework that our research operates in. Specifically, I have been diving in to the writings of John Bowlby, starting with his 1988 publication A Secure Base. The book is a compilation of several lectures that he gave around the world on the topic of attachment theory, his research in the field of psychology and the work of others that led him to theorize and research about attachment in the particular way that he did. I am several chapters in, and have already learned more about attachment theory generally and how Bowlby, who contributed enormously to the modern field’s understanding of this concept, integrates different scientific approaches into his own. I was interested by Bowlby’s connections between physiological systems and behavior systems, and how he described both as seeking optimal conditions, a physical example being homeostasis, and a behavioral example being secure attachment. He also describes how in his work, he sought to expand the field’s approach to learning more about childhood development and attachment by working prospectively and with objective data. Rather than asking an older individual to describe his or her upbringing and working backwards from there (and rather than emphasizing the person’s fantasy life, as did the more Freudian/psychoanalytical approach), Bowlby worked by observing the interactions of mothers and their children. This method could be augmented by self-report, but was more objective than relying on people’s memories or assertions on sensitive matters like parenting. In the Glass Task, we use self-report measures for both the mother and child participants. The mother completes the Alabama Parenting Questionnaire, and the child answers questions about his/her emotions and about his/her family through different child-focused activities (a matching activity, an interview with puppets). We augment these measures with a 5-minute phone discussion task that is observed by two research assistants. We are, as Bowlby suggested, conducting a prospective experiment that directly observes the interactions between mothers and children. That way, we do not rely on the recollections of adults or just the self-report of mothers. Learning more about why we conduct this experiment the way we do has been a lot of fun this week, and I am looking forward to all the reading I have left to do.

Week 6 – Attachment & Temperament

An article that I read for my honors thesis this past week examined young children’s peer relationships and how they interact with attachment and temperament. An important aspect of my thesis is untangling the concepts of attachment security and temperament, and defining them as distinct ideas. This article, titled “Attachment, Temperament, and Preschool Children’s Peer Acceptance” discussed how both temperament and attachment are important to how people develop relationships. Theories of both temperament and attachment are connected to theories of relationship development, according to these authors, which is why they chose to study these concepts in connected to the development of peer relationships early in the life course. Specifically, this study was looking at peer acceptance in preschool-aged children. This article was based on previous research linking attachment security and quality of peer interactions, social anxiety, and the development of peer support networks. Friendship dynamics also have been found to differ based on attachment security, with secure-secure friendships being the most harmonious. The authors also note that research has linked mother-child attachment and the children’s peer relationship outcomes.

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Week 5 – Attachment Over Time

One of the first articles that I looked at while exploring research on attachment theory and assessment in children was published in Child Development in 2000 by Lewis, Feiring, and Rosenthal entitled “Attachment over Time.” It provides insight into how attachment has been assessed in the field. The authors had conducted an experiment that looked at the consistency of individual differences in attachment over a significant span of time. This longitudinal study began by assessing child participants first at age one, then again at age thirteen, and lastly at age eighteen. The researchers used the Strange Situation task from Ainsworth at age one, and coded participants using dichotomous variables of secure and insecure, lumping the avoidant and anxious groups together for the purposes of streamlining analysis. The final sample was made up of 84 participants with complete data.

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