Discuss research into the influence of childhood on adult relationships. (8 marks + 16 marks)

For this question you should outline and evaluate research into parent-child relationships (including attachment styles) and peer interactions. Adolescence can be relevant, but make sure your answer does not focus on adolescence alone.

Expectations of later relationships can be a continuation of early attachment styles, as the behaviour of the infant's primary attachment figure promotes an internal working model of relationships which leads the infant to expect the same in later relationships. Expectations of sexuality are also learned in relation to early attachment; for example individuals who had an avoidant attachment are more likely to seek sex without love.

    Early relationships with peers can also influence later adult relationships. Close friendships in childhood are often categorised by affection, a sense of alliance & intimacy, and the sharing of personal information - characteristics that are also important in later adult relationships. In later childhood, particularly adolescence, individuals can redirect interpersonal energy towards romantic partners. These early romantic relationships allow adolescents to gain experience with a new kind of emotional & physical intimacy. However, Madsen found that adolescents with heavy dating frequency generally had poorer quality young adult relationships, showing that too much dating in adolescents can be maladaptive.

    Research has supported the link between early attachment style and success in later relationships. Fraley conducted a meta-analysis of studies found correlations from 0.1 to 0.5 between attachment type and later relationships, demonstrating a fairly strong link. The links between some attachment types (e.g. insecure-anxious) and adult relationships were less clear than they were with other attachment types, suggesting that some attachment types are more unstable over time.

      However, it could be that an individual's attachment type is determined by their current relationship as well as their attachment in childhood; this may be why happily married individuals are secure. Attachment theory does suggest that significant relationship experiences can alter attachment organisation. This idea is supported by the finding that relationship break-ups are often associated with a shift from secure to insecure attachment.

      In a longitudinal study by Simpson et al., participants were studied at four key points: infancy, early childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Their attachment types and romantic relationships were assessed at some of these different stages to attempt to identify a relationships between them. The findings supported the claim that expression of emotions in adult romantic relationships can be traced back to a person's early attachment experiences. Securely attached children were more expressive and emotionally attached in later romantic relationships.

      Although dating in adolescence can improve the quality of adult relationships, romantic experience in early to middle adolescence has been associated with negative outcomes in later adult relationships. This suggests that the timing of romantic relationships in adolescence determines what influence, if any, they will have.

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