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Why Cognitive Development and Attachment Decide How Old You Are

The ability to attach to another person draws back to infancy. According to Mary Ainsworth’s “The Strange Situation” research experiment, only 60 percent of infants are truly attached to their mother while 40 percent linger along the gray lines of being emotionally independent. An infant’s attachment to it’s mother is a significant beginning to a persons relationship with people. 

The nature of an infant-to-parent bond lies in the infant’s need for care giving. This form of attachment continues through childhood. The child develops attachment for those who provide for them. The relationship is merely dependent on the caregivers ability to give continuously. The attachment asks “What can you do for me?

 Beyond childhood, something comes into our lives without invitation. This thing is the ego. Egocentricism shifts the individual’s standards for attachment. This change occurs around the age of eleven when the preteen begins to conceive the difference between experimental and hypothetical thinking. The adolescent becomes far more self-conscious. They merge from their parental attachments and turn to peers for self-assurance. The individual begins living with an “imaginary audience” that watches their every step. If you know any preteens, you’ve probably notice a surge of vanity. To them however, life is about answering the questions “Who am I and who am I meant to be?” Maybe you recall this phase in your own experiences. 

Another ruling factor in this development stage is puberty. During puberty, the frontal lobe is rarely fully developed, which blocks the individual from seeing the risk in their decisions. So here in this young human being, is not only unfinished brain development, but raging hormones. This causes the nature of this person’s attachment to change from “What will you doforme?” to “How will you make me feel about myself?" This could be the reason so many adolescents make large mistakes that negatively control the rest of their lives. The arousal of feeling interesting, unforgettable or even addicting can cause an individual to make emotionally fueled choices without recognizing how they feel about the source of that attention. 

Over time the identity develops. The four stages of identity deal with every corner of our lives, from career choice to religious affiliation; From sexuality to political stance.  There are four types of identity and they are as followed:

  • Identity Achievement: You have explored various options in life and have made a commitment. 
  • Identity Foreclosure: You have reached firm commitment and never explore other options. 
  • Identity Moratorium: You have made a commitment, but you are still exploring. 
  • Identity Diffusion: You have made no commitment or exploration. 

With a developed identity, an individual is capable of deciding what he or she wants in life. The firm identity calls for an entirely different form of attachment, and this attachment is the attachment to another person’s identity. So instead of “What can you do for me?” and “How do you make me feel about myself?”, the attachment takes on a new array of thoughts that ask “How well can I know you?" The attachment’s dynamics no longer revolve around the individual, but around the pleasure of experiencing the separate identity of the other person.

In reality however, all three stages are not met by everyone. Some people only develop attachment to those who provide for them. Some can not build an attachment past the adolescent need for attention and re-assurance. To build an attachment purely for the admiration of another is rare. 

Source: “Psychology” second edition

Schacter,Gilbert,Wegner 

  • 12 April 2012
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