Social Development in Infancy and childhood
Attachment (define it and understand how it develops and the purpose it serves)
Self concept and how it develops
Parenting styles and their effects (Authoritarian, Permissive, Authoritative,
Kohlberg’s theory of moral development
Major social developments of infancy and childhood
Infancy’s major social achievement is attachment
Childhood’s major social achievement is positive sense of self
I. Social Development in Infancy - Attachment
Attachment – An emotional tie with another person, shown in young children by seeking closeness with
their caregiver and distress at separation.
Why is attachment important?
It is a powerful survival impulse that keeps infants close to their caregivers.
Attachment provides us with a secure base from which we can venture out into the world and
explore, knowing that we have safe place to return to. Having that secure base that we know we can
return to is what enables us to go out and experience our environment in ways that enable us to
As we get older, that secure base transfers from parents to peers.
Early attachment in infants forms the foundation for adult relationships, romantic and non-romantic
and with our own children. Attachment leads to an internal working model for relationships later on.
At 8 months (around same time object permanence acquired) infants develop stranger anxiety The
have schemas for familiar faces and when a new face doesn’t fit one of those, it is distressing.
Harry and Margaret Harlow and their Monkeys
Is an infant’s attachment to their caregiver simply due to the fact that their caregiver satisfies their
needs for nourishment? The Harlows’ work answered this (the answer is ‘no’) and gave us an
understanding of the role of body contact in attachment formation.
The Harlows were psychologists who bred monkeys for their research on learning. To control the
spread of disease, they isolated the monkeys from their mothers and from other monkeys. Infant
monkeys were raised in cages with a baby blanket. When the blanket was removed for laundering,
the monkeys became distressed. They had become attached to the blanket.
o Experiment Two artificial mothers, a bare wire “food mother” and a soft mother that
didn’t feed. The monkeys preferred the soft mother to the mother that provided food. They
demonstrated behaviors similar to those demonstrated by human infants toward their
mother (using the mother as a secure base from which to explore and to return to). This
preference was even stronger when the cloth mothers were given other nurturing qualities
like rocking and warmth.
How does Attachment develop?
Body Contact – parent-infant emotional communication occurs via touch. Contact makes infants feel
safe. Harlows’ experiment demonstrated the influence of comforting contact in attachment.
Familiarity For children, it is a safety signal. Many animals develop attachment based on
familiarity during critical periods
o Imprinting – Rigid attachment process in which animals form attachment based on
familiarity during critical periods. For example, birds that imprint to something bird-like, and
in the absence of that, anything that moves, soon after birth.
o Konrad Lorenz’s ducklings
Children develop an attachment style t their primary caregiver early in development.
How do children differ in their attachment styles and what causes these differences?
Mary Ainsworth Designed The Strange Situation to study attachment differences
o She observed mother-infant pairs at home during their first six months. Later she observed
the same infants at age 1 in a “strange situation” without their mothers.
o In the strange situation, the child is brought into the lab with their caregiver (mother
usually). They are given toys to play with and after a while, the child is left alone in the room
under a variety of conditions. First, the child is alone. Then the researcher comes in. Finally
their caregiver is brought back in. The key to understanding attachment is to examine how
the child responds when reunited with their caregiver.
o She observed two attachment styles in infants and the different parenting behaviors that
went along with them.
Secure attachment – 60 % of infants in a strange situation study will display secure attachment.
Other infants avoid attachment or display insecure attachment
o What secure attachment looks like They are comfortable in mother’s presence but also
show willingness leave her side to. They become distressed when mother leaves, but when
she returns they can be calmed and are happy to see her and seek her contact.
o Sensitive, responsive mothers, who notice what their babies were doing and responded
appropriately, had infants who exhibited secure attachment.
o These styles have been shown to be related to relationships later in life. People who are
securely attached tend to be more comfortable in relationships. They also exhibit less fear
of failure and a greater drive to achieve.
Insecure Attachment - These infants were less likely to explore their surroundings, some were more
clingy to their mothers. When their mother left, they cried loudly and remained upset or, in
contrast, they may have seemed indifferent to her departure and return.
o Insensitive, unresponsive mothers – those who attended to their babies when they felt like
doing so but ignored them at other times – had infants who were often insecurely attached.
o Children who are insecurely attached have more difficulty trusting others later in life.
o Where might this come from? Infant’s with insensitive parents, who are unpredictable and
inconsistent in giving attention to their infants, are less able to develop the sense that the
world is predictable, which in turn makes it a scarier place.
o In the Harlow monkey study, the infant monkeys, who were raised with artificial,
unresponsive mothers, showed extreme insecurity of attachment. They became terrified
when placed in a strange situation without their mothers.
Erik Erikson said that securely attached children approach life with a sense of basic trust – a sense that
the world is predictable and reliable – rather than fear. He attributed this to early parenting and NOT
environment or temperament.
What explains the relationship between parenting and attachment style? Is it attachment style the
result of parenting? Or is it the result of temperament, our genetically influenced personal characteristic
emotional reactivity and intensity? More likely the two interact (an example of gene-environment
interaction). Easy babies (cheerful, relaxed, follow predictable schedules) are more likely to elicit
positive parenting behaviors and attention from caregivers. Difficult babies (irritable, intense,
unpredictable) may be more likely to elicit less positive parenting behaviors or less attention.
Do you think this is true?
What might cause someone to be an unresponsive or insensitive parent? Lack of knowledge about
parenting, resource stress (not enough money or social support and a lot of constraints on their time),
their attitude and enthusiasm about their new role, and psychological conditions like depression or drug
Intervention programs that teach parenting behavior and sensitivity training can increase parental
sensitivity and, through that, infant attachment security.
Even though we mostly talk about mothers, it isn’t necessary that the primary caregiver be the mother
in order for secure attachment to form. As long as there is at least one effective primary caregiver,
whether it is a father, mother, or grandparent, a child can develop secure attachment. Fathers are
important for other reasons too. Children whose fathers are more involved in parenting tend to achieve
more in school, even when controlling for factors like parental education and family wealth.
Deprivation of Attachment
Babies raised in institutions without stimulation and attention and regular caregiver, or under conditions
of abuse or neglect, are often withdrawn, speechless, frightened.
Romanian institutions of 1980’s – children institutionalized for >8 months showed lasting emotional
Those of Harlow’s monkeys who were raised in isolation without even a surrogate mother did not know
how to interact with other monkeys their age, were either too aggressive or too fearful. As adult
monkey most were incapable of mating and if artificially impregnated, they were neglectful or abusive
of their first-born children.
Although being abused by a parent in infancy increases a person’s chance of becoming abusive when
they are a parent (30 %, which is four times the national rate), most people who experience abuse do
not grow up to become abusive and are instead resilient.
Link between being abused and becoming an abuser is also supported by animal studies – Primate study
and Hamster study Abused hamsters are cowards when put in cage with bigger hamsters and bullies
when put in cage with smaller hamsters. They also showed sluggish serotonin response.
People who were abused as children and who became aggressive teens and adults also show similar
sluggish serotonin response.
Childhood physical abuse has lasting wounds – nightmares, depression, substance abuse.
Childhood sexual abuse places children at increased risk for health problems, psychological disorders,
substance abuse, and criminality.
Interaction of genes and experience/environment Abuse victims are at considerable risk for
depression if they carry a gene variation that spurs stress-hormone production.
Disruption of Attachment
Separation distress – infants who are separated from families become withdrawn and despairing. If
placed in a positive and stable environment they recover from the distress. If the separation occurs
before age 2, at later ages they will show little lasting effects. Removal after age 2, or frequent
disruption of attachment, can lead to attachment problems.
Daycare and attachment
Putting a child in daycare does not have negative affect on attachment so long as the daycare provides
responsive caregiving. Infants can be attached to multiple caregivers.
Children need consistent, warm, responsive relationships with people who they can learn to trust in
order to thrive.
II. Social Development and Childhood – Self Concept and Parenting
Self-Concept – Our understanding and evaluation of who we are.
Self-recognitions - 15-18 months Children begin to touch their own nose when they see a red spot in
the mirror. They recognize that that is their face and they have a schema of how their face should look.
Self-concept gradually strengthens from there By school age children have formed a concept of their
traits and are able to compare themselves to other children and how they believe they should be.
Self-concept affects behavior. Children with a positive self-concept are more confident, independent,
optimistic, assertive, and sociable.
Parenting style and self-concept
Authoritarian parents impose rules and expect obedience (“Because I said so”). They are generally more
punitive and restrictive and are less likely to reason with their child or explain the basis for their rules.
Rules are rigid.
Permissive parents submit to their children’s desires, make few demands and rarely punish. If they have
rules, they are lax in enforcing them.
Authoritative parents are both demanding and responsive. They exert control by setting rules and
enforcing them but they also exlain the reasons for the rules and, with older children, encourage
discussion when making the rules and allow exceptions.
Children with the highest self-esteem, self-reliance, and social competence usually have warm,
Children with authoritarian parents have less social skills and self-esteem in children
Children with permissive parents tend to be more aggressive and immature.
The studies that these parenting styles and conclusions were derived from were conducted primarily
with white, middle class families. Effective parenting may vary by culture but in general, studies
worldwide confirm that social and academic behavior correlate with loving authoritative parenting.
Remember also, parenting influences children’s traits but children’s traits influence parenting.
Also, competent parents and competent children share gene, so what may really be at work is an overall
effectiveness. What do you think?
Kohlberg’s Moral Development
Kohlberg's six stages can be more generally grouped into three levels of two stages each: pre-
conventional, conventional and post-conventional. Following Piaget's constructivist requirements
for a stage model, as described in his theory of cognitive development, it is extremely rare to
regress in stages—to lose the use of higher stage abilities. Stages cannot be skipped; each
provides a new and necessary perspective, more comprehensive and differentiated than its
predecessors but integrated with them.
Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
1. Obedience and punishment orientation
(How can I avoid punishment?)
2. Self-interest orientation
(What's in it for me?)
(Paying for a benefit)
Level 2 (Conventional)
3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
(The good boy/good girl attitude)
4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
(Law and order morality)
Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
5. Social contract orientation
6. Universal ethical principles
The pre-conventional level of moral reasoning is especially common in children, although adults
can also exhibit this level of reasoning. Reasoners at this level judge the morality of an action by
its direct consequences. The pre-conventional level consists of the first and second stages of
moral development, and is solely concerned with the self in an egocentric manner. A child with
preconventional morality has not yet adopted or internalized society's conventions regarding
what is right or wrong, but instead focuses largely on external consequences that certain actions
In Stage one (obedience and punishment driven), individuals focus on the direct consequences of
their actions on themselves. For example, an action is perceived as morally wrong because the
perpetrator is punished. The worse the punishment for the act is, the more "bad" the act is
perceived to be. This can give rise to an inference that even innocent victims are guilty in
proportion to their suffering.
Stage two (self-interest driven) espouses the "what's in it for me" position, in which right
behavior is defined by whatever is in the individual's best interest. Stage two reasoning shows a
limited interest in the needs of others, but only to a point where it might further the individual's
own interests. The lack of a societal perspective in the pre-conventional level is quite different
from the social contract (stage five), as all actions have the purpose of serving the individual's
own needs or interests.
The conventional level of moral reasoning is typical of adolescents and adults. Those who reason
in a conventional way judge the morality of actions by comparing them to society's views and
expectations. The conventional level consists of the third and fourth stages of moral
development. Conventional morality is characterized by an acceptance of society's conventions
concerning right and wrong. At this level an individual obeys rules and follows society's norms
even when there are no consequences for obedience or disobedience. Adherence to rules and
conventions is somewhat rigid, however, and a rule's appropriateness or fairness is seldom
In Stage three (interpersonal accord and conformity driven), the self enters society by filling
social roles. Individuals are receptive to approval or disapproval from others as it reflects
society's accordance with the perceived role. They try to be a "good boy" or "good girl" to live
up to these expectations, having learned that there is inherent value in doing so. Stage three
reasoning may judge the morality of an action by evaluating its consequences in terms of a
person's relationships, which now begin to include things like respect, gratitude and the "golden
rule". "I want to be liked and thought well of; apparently, not being naughty makes people like
me." Desire to maintain rules and authority exists only to further support these social roles. The
intentions of actions play a more significant role in reasoning at this stage; "they mean well ...".
In Stage four (authority and social order obedience driven), it is important to obey laws, dictums
and social conventions because of their importance in maintaining a functioning society. Moral
reasoning in stage four is thus beyond the need for individual approval exhibited in stage three;
society must learn to transcend individual needs. A central ideal or ideals often prescribe what is
right and wrong, such as in the case of fundamentalism. If one person violates a law, perhaps
everyone would—thus there is an obligation and a duty to uphold laws and rules. When someone
does violate a law, it is morally wrong; culpability is thus a significant factor in this stage as it
separates the bad domains from the good ones. Most active members of society remain at stage
four, where morality is still predominantly dictated by an outside force.
The post-conventional level, also known as the principled level, consists of stages five and six of
moral development. There is a growing realization that individuals are separate entities from
society, and that the individual’s own perspective may take precedence over society’s view; they
may disobey rules inconsistent with their own principles. These people live by their own abstract
principles about right and wrong—principles that typically include such basic human rights as
life, liberty, and justice. Because of this level’s “nature of self before others”, the behavior of
post-conventional individuals, especially those at stage six, can be confused with that of those at
the pre-conventional level.
People who exhibit postconventional morality view rules as useful but changeable
mechanisms—ideally rules can maintain the general social order and protect human rights. Rules
are not absolute dictates that must be obeyed without question. Contemporary theorists often
speculate that many people may never reach this level of abstract moral reasoning.
In Stage five (social contract driven), the world is viewed as holding different opinions, rights
and values. Such perspectives should be mutually respected as unique to each person or
community. Laws are regarded as social contracts rather than rigid edicts. Those that do not
promote the general welfare should be changed when necessary to meet “the greatest good for
the greatest number of people”. This is achieved through majority decision, and inevitable
compromise. Democratic government is ostensibly based on stage five reasoning.
In Stage six (universal ethical principles driven), moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning
using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice,
and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. This involves an
individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes, if they believed what that other
person imagines to be true. The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is
never a means but always an end in itself; the individual acts because it is right, and not because
it is instrumental, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon. Although Kohlberg insisted that
stage six exists, he found it difficult to identify individuals who consistently operated at that