Cultural Variations in Attachment, including Van Ijzendoorn.

Cross Cultural Variations in Attachment, (Description, AO1):

Definition – Cross-Cultural Variations: The ways members of a society/culture vary in terms of their social practices (child-rearing). These variations, in turn, can effect infant development and behaviour. This can lead to cultural differences in attachment type.

  • In Japan it is rare to leave an infant alone and their mothers rarely leave them in the care of others.
  • In Germany, parents value independence. Some of the behaviour in the strange situation which is supposed to indicate secure attachment is seen by German parents as ‘clingy’.

Aim: To investigate cross-cultural differences in attachment type through meta-analysis of research, comparing findings of the Strange Situation research conducted in other cultures

Research Methods Checkpoint!! What is a meta-analysis? 

A meta-analysis is when no new research is conducted. The researchers carrying out the meta-analysis use findings and results from previously conducted studies in order to draw conclusions about (in this case) cross cultural variations in attachment.

Procedure: Compared the findings of 32 studies across 8 different countries that used the strange situation to measure attachment type. Specifically comparing Western (e.g. Britain and Germany) and non-western cultures (e.g. Japan, China). As part of your description (AO1) for this study, you would simply outline the key observations of Ainsworth’s Strange Situation study as Van Izerndoorn carried out his meta-analysis on pieces of research that had used Ainsworth’s methodology.


  • There was wide variation between the proportions of attachment types of different studies.
  • In all countries Secure attachment was the most common attachment type. However, the proportion varied from 75% in Britain to 50% in China.
  • Insecure-Resistant was overall the least common type although, the proportions ranged from 3% in Britain to 30% in Israel.
  • Insecure-Avoidant attachments were observed most commonly in Germany and least commonly in Japan.


Conclusions: Secure attachment seems to be the norm in a wide range of cultures, supporting Bowlby’s idea that attachment is innate and universal and that this type of attachment is the universal norm. However, the research also shows that cultural practices in child rearing have an influence on attachment type.

Evaluation of Research into Cross Cultural Variations of Attachment (Evaluation, AO3):


(1) POINT: A strength of combining the results of attachment studies carried out in different countries is that researchers can end with a very large sample. EXAMPLE/EVIDENCE: For example, in the Van Ijzendoorn meta-analysis there was a total of nearly 2000 babies and their primary attachment figures.EVALUATION: This is a strength because large samples increase internal validity by reducing the impact of anomalous results caused by bad methodology.


(1) POINT: However, comparing cultures using the same ‘Strange Situation’ attachment behaviour interpretations may be ‘ethnocentric’.EXAMPLE/EVIDENCE: For example, the Strange Situation was designed by Ainsworth (an American researcher) based on a British theory (Bowlby). In the strange situation, a lack of separation anxiety and a lack of pleasure on reunion indicate an insecure attachment. In Germany, this behaviour may be seen as independence rather than avoidance and hence not a sign of insecurity within that cultural context. EVALUATION: This is a problem because it can be questioned whether Anglo-American theories and assessments can be applied to other cultures (imposed  etic). Therefore, cross cultural comparisons using the ‘strange situation’ may lack validity.


(2) POINT: Furthermore, Grossman used the Strange Situation technique which can be criticised as lacking ecological validity. EVIDENCE/EXAMPLE: For example, the ‘playroom’ environment in which the infant was interacting in was both strange and unfamiliar to the infant’s everyday environment. This means that, because the research was conducted in a laboratory, the environment is artificial. EVALUATION: This is a weakness because it is possible that the experiment was not measuring the infant’s natural behaviour and as a result, the findings cannot be generalise past the study.