scientists are announcing the results of an astonishing two-decade-long study that explored the connection between insecure infants and relationship problems in young adults. Turns out the kind of baby you were at 12 months can say a lot about the kind of person you will be at 21.
"If you are more insecure when you are 1, you are more likely to experience more negative emotions in your relationship, said psychologist Jeffry Simpson at the University of Minnesota.
Simpson and his colleagues have shown for the first time, in a paper in the current issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, an empirical connection between early behavioral patterns and relationships years down the road.
The study closely tracked 78 people over a quarter-century, starting when they were babies. Mothers and infants were brought into a laboratory, and the mothers were asked to leave briefly. The infants became upset, of course, but the psychologists were interested in what happened when the mothers returned. Some infants clung tightly to their mothers and sought comfort. In a little while, they calmed down. But others refused to calm down even after lengthy soothing. And some babies refused to turn to their mothers for comfort at all.
Simpson said research has shown that secure infants turn to their parents when they are upset: "The kid learns, 'I can count on my parents to calm me down.' They learn to turn to others. Whereas insecure kids learn that my parent is either rejecting or they learn my parent is neglectful. Or 'I have to protest to get attention.' "
The next check came at another developmental milestone, when the kids were teenagers. The psychologists studied how the adolescents reached out to their best friends for support: "Do you rely on your best same-sex friend at 16 to calm you down or do you distract yourself?" Simpson asked.
"We find if you are insecure at age 1, that predicts being rated as being less socially competent than your peers during grades one-two-three, which predicts less reliance on your best same-sex friend when you are upset at 16, which then predicts more negative emotion in relationship at age 21 to 23," Simpson said.
Does this mean all insecure infants are doomed to a lifetime of unhappiness? Simpson argued otherwise. Human destiny is not so circumscribed, he said. What the study showed is how each developmental step influences the next, positively or negatively. While it is certainly best to be started in the right direction, people can always learn the skills needed for successful relationships.