AQA Psychology for A Level Year 1 & AS: Student Book 2nd Edition

The role of the father The specification says… The role of the father. Fathers may be important attachment figures. Furthermore it has been suggested that they have distinctive roles in parenting. Key term Father  In attachment research the father is anyone who takes on the role of the main male caregiver, This can be but is not necessarily the biological father. The role of the father Most attachment research has focused on the mother and baby attachment , and the role of the father in the development of attachment has often been neglected. However, psychologists have actually often included fathers in their research and indicated what role they do play. It isn’t all about mothers. (Note that a ‘father’ does not specially refer to a baby’s biological male parent – it refers to a child’s closest male caregiver. So this is about what male caregivers may contribute.) Attachment to fathers Perhaps the most basic question about the role of fathers is whether babies actually attach to them and, if so, when. Available evidence suggests that fathers are much less likely to become babies’ first attachment figure compared to mothers. For example, on the previous spread we looked at stages of attachment based on research by Rudolf Schaffer and Peggy Emerson (1964). They found that the majority of babies first became attached to their mother at around 7 months. In only 3% of cases the father was the first sole object of attachment. In 27% of cases the father was the joint first object of attachment with the mother. However, it appears that most fathers go on to become important attachment figures. 75% of the babies studied by Schaffer and Emerson formed an attachment with their father by the age of 18 months. This was determined by the fact that the babies protested when their father walked away – a sign of attachment. Distinctive role for fathers A different research question is whether attachment to fathers holds some specific value in a child’s development and, if so, whether it plays a different role in a child’s development from attachment to the mother. In other words, do male adult caregivers make a unique contribution to early development? Klaus Grossmann et al. (2002) carried out a longitudinal study where babies’ attachments were studied until they were into their teens. The researchers looked at both parents’ behaviour and its relationship to the quality of their baby’s later attachments to other people. Quality of a baby’s attachment with mothers but not fathers was related to attachments in adolescence. This suggests that attachment to fathers is less important than attachment to mothers. However, Grossmann et al . also found that the quality of fathers’ play with babies was related to the quality of adolescent attachments. This suggests that fathers have a different role from mothers – one that is more to do with play and stimulation, and less to do with emotional development. Fathers as primary attachment figures A distinction is made between primary and secondary attachment figures. On the previous spread we described the first specific attachment as a primary attachment and later attachments (in stage 4) as secondary attachments . But there is more to primary attachment than being first – a baby’s primary attachment has special emotional significance. A baby’s relationship with their primary attachment figure forms the basis of all later close emotional relationships. Interestingly there is some evidence to suggest that when fathers do take on the role of primary caregiver they are able to adopt the emotional role more typically associated with mothers. For example, in one study Tiffany Field (1978) filmed 4-month-old babies in face-to-face interaction with primary caregiver mothers, secondary caregiver fathers and primary caregiver fathers. Primary caregiver fathers, like primary caregiver mothers, spent more time smiling, imitating and holding babies than the secondary caregiver fathers. Smiling, imitating and holding babies are all part of reciprocity and interactional synchrony which, as we saw on page 75, are part of the process of attachment formation (see research by Isabella et al . 1989). So it seems that fathers have the potential to be the more emotion-focused primary attachment figure. The key to the attachment relationship is the level of responsiveness not the gender of the parent. A lifestyle choice Jacob and Kalwant have a decision to make. Their baby is four weeks old. Kalwant would really like to be a full-time mother but she earns a lot more than Jacob and they fear they will not manage financially if she is the stay-at-home parent. The alternative is for Jacob to take on the role of primary caregiver. Question Referring to research into fathers’ attachment, what could you tell Jacob and Kalwant about Jacob’s suitability as primary caregiver? Concepts Apply it Caregiver versus a achment gure There is a difference between a primary caregiver and a primary a achment figure. A primary caregiver is the person who spends most time with a baby, caring for its needs. A primary a achment figure is the person to whom the baby has the strongest a achment. Often the same person fulfils the two roles but not always. Heteronormativity This line of research focusing on the role of the father in infant development is based on the assumption that babies have two opposite-sex parents. This is of course not always the case. Although the research reported here concerns fathers in two- parent heterosexual partnerships there is no suggestion from respectable psychologists that having a single parent or two same- sex parents has any negative impact on children’s development. Attachment to a father may be more about play than ‘nurturing’ (emotional care) but this makes an important contribution to development. 78 // Chapter 3 Attachment