Is it all our parents’ fault?


How attachment styles can affect later relationships.

This topic is part of the syllabus for developmental psychology, with a focus on inter-generational transmission of attachment styles, not through genetic inheritance, but through vertical social transmission, as our parents’ styles affect our own attachment styles as babies, which affect our later relationships and our parenting as adults. Psychology Sorted Book 2 will be out soon, and will cover all the options.

The idea of attachment was developed by Bowlby, but it was his student Mary Ainsworth who looked in detail at how infants developed different attachment styles. Ainsworth and Bell,_1970 conducted research into the correlation between parenting (n this case mothering) and children’s attachment styles, as measured through separation anxiety and fear of a stranger.  She identified three different styles:

Insecure-avoidant attachment (Type A) – seen in 10-15% of strange situation studies

Secure attachment (Type B) – seen in 70% of strange situation studies

Insecure-resistant/ambivalent attachment (Type C) – seen in 10-15% of strange situation studies

Type D (insecure- disorganized/disorientated) was added later by Main and Solomon in 1986, to extend the categories.

John Bowlby suggested that children create an internal working model (schema) that helps them pattern their behaviour  in later relationships, and it is through Ainsworth’s work that we can see one way in which this may develop. Hazan & Shaver developed a ‘love quiz’ that they distributed through a local newspaper, to test the hypothesis that childhood attachment patterns affected adult relationships, through the operation of an internal working model. There is a similar quiz here, if you would like to try it! They concluded that there was a strong positive correlation between (remembered) styles of one’s parents, one’s own attachment styles, and patterns of behaviour within adult relationships.

I can see lots of problems with this theory – especially as we grow older.  Can we really blame our behaviour on our parents once we are ourselves parents or even grandparents? There are response bias issues with ‘love quizzes’ as self-report studies. Memory – do we remember accurately how our parents’ treated us?  Attribution theory – aren’t the least happy of us more likely to blame our parents, and the happiest of us likely to claim our happiness is the result of our personality?  (See research by Gottman et al, which is highly relevant to the Human Relationships curriculum).

These are just some of the questions we should be asking in the classroom.

Research from Psychology Sorted: Social Identity Theory

sitHow we develop our social identity is still a hot topic today, and for those of you studying the effect of technologies, especially social media, on social identity, there is a developing literature on the subject.  But we should start with the classic minimal groups paradigm from Tajfel (1971), found in our new book Psychology Sorted, as it is still so relevant today.

The predominant 1960s theory of social identity formation came from Sherif et al.’s (1961) study which led to the development of his 1966 realistic conflict theory that competition for scarce resources is the foundation for group (social) identity, and also one cause of conflict. Think of the worldwide competition for water and oil on a large scale and maybe sporting competitions on a smaller scale. Why do you think that schools have ‘houses’, ‘sporting colours’, ‘house badges’?

However, Tajfel’s research contradicted this, demonstrating that only minimal conditions were necessary for group identity to form: his experiment randomly allocated schoolboys to two groups.  The boys thought they had been allocated their group according to their preference for a painting by either Klee or Kandinsky, but this was a deception and the allocation was random. This perception of belonging to a certain group was enough for boys to show in-group favouritism when allocating virtual money via a complex matrix of rules.  The minimal groups paradigm formed the basis of Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory, which remains a powerful explanation of in-group favouritism and out-group discrimination.

The three sequential steps Tajfel & Turner (1979) deemed necessary for social identity to form are:

  • social categorisation – we understand that people (and things) can be grouped
  • social identification – we identify with a group
  • social comparison – we compare ourselves favourably with another group

Social comparison underlies stereotyping, gang fights (though these can also be seen as competition for scarce resources), between-class competitions, girl/boy competition, online identities…how many more can you think of?

Tajfel’s theory can be used extensively in the curriculum, from his lab experiments in the 1970s (research methods), to an argument for the formation of stereotypes (sociocultural approach), to an explanation of how competition and maybe even conflict is generated in human relationships, to how images are cultivated socially on Snapchat, Instagram and (amongst us oldies) Facebook for cognitive psychology.  This is an example of a classic theory that can be easily accessed through Psychology Sorted.

Pheromones – are we looking the the wrong place?

pheromonesA pheromone is a chemical substance released  by a non-human mammal or an insect which affects the behaviour or physiology of others of its species. Most of the search for human pheromones has focused on their role in attracting members of the opposite sex, even though in animals and insects they have also been shown to affect the feeding behaviour of ants and baby rabbits are known to begin nursing when exposed to a specific pheromone from a lactating mother rabbit.  If you search for ‘pheromones’ on the web, it is quite likely that a picture like the one above will pop up, and you will be encouraged to buy ‘X perfume spray, which contains the highest possible concentrate of known human pheromones, to make you irresistible to the opposite sex.’ Wow!

Of course this statement is probably true, as the total numbers of known human pheromones is exactly zero. There are no known human pheromones, and Tristram Wyatt is one researcher who says that scientists are looking in the wrong place for them.  In his TED talk he points out that rather than thinking about sex, we should be thinking about breast feeding  and the secretions from those tiny little white bumps in the areolae around the nipples of both men and women. It is over nine years since the secretion from these glands in lactating women was shown to act on newborn babies, causing them to wake and suckle.  Research by Doucet et al. (2009) shows that this is true of  any newborn and any woman, which means, like a pheromone, this is action at species level, rather than individual level.

So, while the perfume spray may attract one or two members of the opposite sex, it is not because of the human pheromones in there. In fact this is not where the real action is at all. In his most recent article, Wyatt argues that we should go back to the beginning and focus on a possible human mammary pheromone, rather than wasting any more time thinking about attracting others through chemical secretions. Sounds like a plan!

Are your New Year’s resolutions doomed because of who you are romantically involved with?

Here’s an interesting article from Psychology Today which may make you question your relationship with your nearest and dearest: they could be the reason you don’t stick to the diet/keep going to the gym/stay off alcohol. Though, this could also be a great excuse for you giving up before you’ve even started. Willpower people! (I’m going veggie for January and, erm, that’s it – gotta be realistic about these things!)

See the source image

Coming soon – ‘Psychology Sorted’, the book!

Hi Psychology teachers from all over the world! Yes, I know that summer is beckoning but wouldn’t you like a sneaky peak at a BRAND NEW RESOURCE that is due to be out around October 1st? Written by Laura Swash and Claire Neeson, this resource will solve all those pesky teaching dilemmas such as: ‘Which studies should I use for each topic and how can I re-use them to create less bulk for the students to learn?  How can I find a streamlined, easy, cross-referenced resource that’s user-friendly (for me and my students)?  What can I use for both teaching AND revision?’ Here is a sample for you to taste, to get the ‘flavour’ of what we’re doing. Add us to your school shopping list: #1 Order ‘Psychology Sorted’ next term.  Sorted!

Sample_Section 1_Bio. updated

Bio KS1 Fisher et al_2005

Holiday Reading for all

kindle-381242_640Psychology teachers and students alike must by now either be on holiday, or be desperately looking forward to being on holiday.  Some lighter reading recommendations (with links to summaries or reviews) for those who just can’t get enough psychology are:

Alexandra Horowitz – On Looking  – 12 stories of walking through a city with different experts (one being a dog!).This is really good for TOK as well as a good discussion on schema creation.

Robert M. Sapolsky – Behave  and Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers – why we do what we do, and why zebras don’t.  Great insight and humorous asides in both.

Ethan Watters – Crazy like US – the McDonaldization of psychiatry.  Very easy, historical view of how typically Western conceptions of mental illness have been exported to the rest of the world, and the effects of this.

Lisa Genova – Still Alice – fiction, but could so easily be fact, about a 50 year old female professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Told from her perspective.  Lisa Genova has written two other fictional accounts relevant to psychology, but this is (in my opinion) far and away the best.  Heartbreaking.

Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Christopher is on the autistic spectrum in his behaviour, and perceives the world entirely logically, like his favourite detective Sherlock Homes.  When a neighbour’s dog is killed, he sets out to solve the murder.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl – This tells the story of Nick, a man who becomes the main suspect when his wife mysteriously goes missing. Though he initially seems an unlikely killer, looks can be deceiving.  Tense thriller.

Emma Donaghue – Room – This novel of a boy and his kidnapped mother in extreme isolation is a great study for child development. A sensitive telling of a horrific story.

Meg Haston – Paperweight – a newish novel (2017) that follows 17-year-old Stevie’s journey as she struggles not only with her eating disorder and her guilt over her brother’s death. Mesmerising and sensitive.

Leslie McGill – Running Scared – another novel about an eating disorder, but quite different from Paperweight.

Finally, the best-ever fiction book written about addiction, written by Beatrice Sparks many years ago, Go Ask Alice ticks all the boxes for me.

Enjoy your reading, and maybe you have some recommendations?






What Options do we Have?

The first year of a new IB Diploma Psychology curriculum is almost ended, and next year, if you haven’t started already, you will be teaching/studying one (SL) or two (HL) options.  But which ones?  Most teachers will probably have chosen these already, and (hopefully) used some of the studies from the options while teaching the approaches.  But for those who are not yet certain, here are the pluses and minuses – as I see them – of each.

Optionstable1 Optionstable2