Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

The Role of Culture

Are there cultural differences in patterns of attachment?

Attachment theory looks at the ways that children understand their emotional bonds with key caregivers. However, cultures vary as to the expression of emotion, the value of independence, and the emphasis on intimacy. Consequently, the patterns of attachment may vary across cultures. Security of infant-mother attachment has been assessed in several different cultures, including Japanese, German, and American populations.

Interestingly, the proportion of securely attached infants, that is, infants who appear to believe that their mother will be emotionally available, did not differ across cultures. Cultural differences were only found in the quality of insecure attachments. In other words, no one country was any more likely to have unhealthy mother-infant pairs, but the nature of insecurely attached mother-infant dyads differed across the three countries. For example, Japanese children were more likely to be classified anxious-resistant than were American children, showing much greater difficulty tolerating separations from their mother. In contrast, German children were more likely to be classified as anxious-avoidant than American children, reflecting their tendency to minimize their distress at separation from their mother. This brings to mind the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s famous saying that all happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.


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