Baby love

Baby love – research on how attachment to parents during childhood could affect romantic relationships as adults

Marjory Roberts

Baby love

Infants talk baby talk, cooing andgurgling to their parents. When mom and dad leave, babies cry and carry on until their return. Grown-ups in love are not so different.

In two recent studies, psychologistPhillip Shaver and research associate Cindy Hazan found that the kind of attachment people form with their parents during childhood could affect the romantic relationships and beliefs about love they form as adults.

The researchers polled 620 readersof the Rocky Mountain News as well as 108 college freshmen, asking them about the most important romance they’d ever had, how they experience love and how they think the course of romantic love goes for most people. They also answered questions about their childhood relationship with their parents, and assessed the way they typically feel about getting closely involved with another person.

Based on their responses, Shaverclassified each person in one of three groups. “Securely attached’ people believed it’s easy to get close to others, and they have no problem with mutual dependence in a relationship. Those who form “avoidant’ attachments agreed that they feel uneasy when people get too close to them, and they have trouble trusting and depending on others. The third group, called “anxious/ambivalent,’ included people who indicated that they want a level of closeness many partners don’t seem willing to give, and they worry a lot about loved ones leaving them.

Shaver found a host of differencesbetween these groups, ranging from their experience with parents and romance to their views on love in general. Secure people, for example, had particularly happy, trusting and friendly love relationships. Their romances lasted the longest and ended in divorce least often of the three groups. Avoidant lovers more often reported a fear of intimacy, emotional highs and lows and jealousy in their relationships. Anxious people experienced even more emotional extremes and jealousy, as well as a desire to “unite’ with their partners and to have them match the intensity of their feelings.

Views of love varied widely. Forthe newspaper readers, those in the secure group agreed that “in some relationships, romantic love never fades.’ Avoidant lovers, however, painted a much more cynical picture of romance. For them, “the kind of head-over-heels romantic love depicted in novels and movies does not exist in real life, romantic love seldom lasts, and it is rare to find a person one can really fall in love with.’ Anxious respondents also said it’s difficult to find true love but “easy to fall in love’ often.

The college students did not holdsuch distinct opinions on love. Regardless of the category they fell into, they gave it a more positive report, possibly, Shaver suggests, because of their inexperience with it.

Childhood memories of parentsalso differed in the three groups. In both studies, secure adults saw their parents as especially loving, responsive and warm, while anxious adults gave mixed reports of theirs. But results for avoidant people conflicted in the two studies. Newspaper respondents in this category, who were in general older than the students, rated their parents rather harshly, seeing their mothers as rejecting and not likable and their fathers as uncaring.

Avoidant freshmen, however, ratedtheir parents just as positively on some measures as secure students did. To explain this difference, Shaver looked back at the 100 youngest newspaper readers. He found that they, too, gave “an unduly rosy picture of their childhood relationships with parents,’ leading him to speculate that these people are defensive at young ages. But “as they get older,’ he says, “they are destined to become more realistic, and hence more negative.’

Though these findings don’t bodewell for everyone, Shaver says that attachments formed in infancy don’t necessarily repeat themselves in adulthood. Parents may change their initial behavior toward their child, for example, or a child might form a close, stable bond with another family member or friend. And some people manage to work out the problems that early relationships may have caused and establish better relationships as adults, he says.

Phillips Shaver, Ph.D., and Cindy Hazanare at the University of Denver. The study will appear in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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