Attachment - Cross Cultural Variations

Ainsworth's 'Strange Situation' procedure has had a profound impact within developmental psychology and has become an accepted and validated method to assess individual differences in attachment types. The procedure has been used in a variety of cultural settings to identify whether patterns of attachments appear to be universal or are subject to cultural influences.

One of the most commonly cited cross-cultural studies which uses the Strange Situation procedure was Van Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg’s (1988) meta-analysis of attachment types.

Van Izjendoorn & Kroonenberg (1998):

Van Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg’s (1988) meta-analysis summarized findings from 8 countries, which included the UK, US, Sweden, Japan, China, Holland, Germany & Israel. The meta- analysis examined 32 studies and consulted nearly 2000 Strange Situation classifications in total. The meta-analysis yielded a number of findings and conclusions:
  • Findings were consistent with Ainsworth’s original research. (Secure 65% - Avoidant 21% - Resistant 14%).
  • Intra-cultural variation was nearly 15 times greater than the cross-cultural variations. Van Ijzendoorn suggested that this was linked to differences in socio-economic factors and levels of stress that varied between samples used within each country.
  • 6/8 countries produced findings that were proportionally consistent with previous findings from other experiments.
  • Japan & Israel revealed a higher incidence of insecure-resistant than insecure-avoidant children.
  • Chinese findings revealed the lowest rate of secure attachments (50%) with the remaining children falling into the other categories equally.
Some evaluation points:
Comparison is aided by the standardised methodology. The use of the strange situation as a procedure means that a comparison can be made across cultures, and the reliability is therefore high - a strength of this research.

The study was not globally representative: Van Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg accepted and noted that data from less Western-oriented cultures were required to establish a more global perspective attachment classifications, pointing out that Africa, South America, and Eastern European socialist countries were not represented.

Overall findings are misleading: As a disproportionately high number of the studies reviewed were conducted in the USA (18/32), the overall findings would have been distorted by these. This means that the apparent consistency between cultures might not genuinely reflect how much attachment types vary between cultures.

Applying Strange Situation procedures and behavioural categories is ethnocentric: Cross-cultural research using the Strange Situation judges and categorises infant behaviour according to behavioural categories that were developed following observations of middle-class American infants. This means that when researchers interpret non-American infant behaviour, it is being judged against an American standard. Eg. an infant exploring the playroom by themselves would be classed as avoidant based on American standards but is valued as reflecting independence in Germany