How do adults perceive that significant others in their lives have affected their development? A qualitative study.
Attachment is a very important factor in human development. What is more, parents and other caregivers are important in attachment and exploration of the world, though, factors of attachment theory may not be transposed to other cultures. A transcript of a video recorded interview of a thirty-five year old man examined adult perceptions of significant others and significant relationships and the effect these have had on development. The data was analysed through thematic analysis, through which the data was encoded to produce a set of themes, which were: male influence, culture and religion, importance of family, and social support. The findings of the present study support much of the previous work on attachment. Following a reflexive account of the study, it is concluded that attachment is an important factor in human development, having long-lasting influences of personality and behaviour.
Attachment refers to the affectional or emotional bonds an infant has for a parent or caregiver and vice versa (Ainsworth, 1989; Bowlby, 1950/80, as cited by Bretherton, 1997, see The Open University, 2007, p.343). Furthermore, it has been argued that attachment and the forms in which attachment takes can have long-lasting influences on an individual’s behaviour, personality and cognition (Ainsworth, 1989).
The work on attachment by Bowlby (1950/80, as cited by Bretherton, 1997, see The Open University, 2007, p.343) demonstrated that attachment to parents and/or caregivers is used as a form of secure psychological base from which to explore the world. Hence, it can be said that an understanding of attachment is of high importance, as it enables us to understand human development.
On a similar note, internal working models described by Bowlby (1969/82, as cited by Kretchmar, Worsham & Swenson, 2005, see The Open University, 2007, p.348) refer to the thoughts and feelings of an individual about their own self and how their self relates to other people. Thus, different forms of attachment and interactions with others influence the way in which we develop and perceive the world.
Rothbaum et. al. (2000) conducted a study that showed that the constructs of attachment theory of sensitivity, competence and secure psychological base are culture-specific and that attachment theorists often perceive attachment as universal. In addition to this, this study demonstrated that these constructs can have different meanings in other countries, such as, Japan.
It is clear to see that attachment is a very important factor in human development and that parents, surrogates and other caregivers are important in this, though, factors of attachment theory may be culturally-specific and/or laden with Western notions. As such, the research question for the present study was how do adults perceive that significant others in their lives have affected their development?
The data obtained for the present study was provided by an outside source, which was taken from a video recorded interview. The interview discussion focused on adult perceptions of significant others and significant relationships and how these relationships have affected their development.
The sample consisted of one male participant, who was aged thirty-five years of age at the time of the interview. Other demographic information was gathered on the participant was that grew up in Yemen and the Middle East but lives in the UK with his wife and works as a journalist. The interview was conducted by a woman but no further demographic information given in relation to the interviewer.
As the interview was conducted by the author of this report, little can be done to influence the ethical considerations of the interview; however, reference can be made to certain elements of the procedure. For example, in order to reduce or avoid harm to the participant, the participant was made aware of their right to refuse to answer any questions without provocation and their right to remove their data from the study if they so wished. In addition to this, as this was a potentially harmful or sensitive subject that was being examined, the participant was made fully aware of the nature of the study and required to sign a consent form ensuring they completely understood the constructs of the study. Thus, this study can be seen as upholding the ethical guidelines of the BPS.
The data obtained for the present study was analysed through thematic analysis, which is a form of qualitative data analysis. The data was analysed by encoding the data from the interview transcript through a series of close readings of the interview transcript wherein the researcher familiarises themselves with the information, which leads to first order analysis of descriptive information that produces a set of themes from the data relating to recurring patterns of meaning within the discussion that were then clustered into general themes.
The research question for the present study was how do adults perceive that significant others in their lives have affected their development? Following analysis through thematic analysis, the major themes that were found were male influence, importance of family, culture and religion, and social support.
One of the most prominent themes throughout the interview discussion was that of the influence of males on the life of the participant with reference to the strong male figures in his life being his father, his eldest brother and his boss.
“a father is a very important figure, is head of the household, but within the house itself” (lines 4-5).
Thus, the participant indicates the norm for a Muslim household in that the father is the authority figure but apart from the father being seen an advisory figure and role model:
“the father would be the first person that you would seek guidance from, he’d be your spiritual leader, everything, is very important.” (lines 7-9).
“My father was someone who always, because of his job, always encouraged us to mix with people and get to know other cultures as well.” (lines 15-17).
Another important contributor to the participant’s life is that of his eldest brother, who acts as a father figure in the absence of the father but is also viewed as an authority figure and someone to look up to and respect. For example:
“My brother was the eldest. He was a … in some respects similar to father figure in that he was quite a bit older than me, but he was someone who I looked up to because my father was sometime not there all the time” (lines 36-39).
However, with this role, it appears that the eldest brother has to take on the responsibility of the father or head of the household:
“But also I felt he was very supportive of me. I think he felt I was the youngest, he had to protect me, look after me.” (lines 42-44).
The influence of his father, brother and his boss has impacted on the way in which the participant has lived his life and how he has approached his professional career and personal relationships:
“By me being myself and being open and asking them questions, they feel they get to know me and they feel that this person is not so bad after all.” (lines 66-68).
From this, it can be seen that male influence has been an important factor in many aspects of the participant’s life.
Importance of family:
The second major theme that arose from the analysis of the data of the present study is that of the importance of family in the life of the participant. For example, the relationship with his parents, particularly his father and brother are very important to him:
“I really valued that and enjoyed that relationship with him” (lines 28-29).
“sometimes my older brother would take up the role of the head of family within, within our, within our family. So we were always encouraged to give respect to my brother.” (line 39-42).
Another theme within this general theme is that of the importance of having a family. The participant refers several times to his desire to wanting a family due to his family background. It would appear that his family experiences have greatly influenced his behaviour and desire for his future:
“We do not have any children yet. This is something that we have been discussing about. I think I would like family.” (lines 95-97).
“I want to be a father who, who is there and supportive of my children and to give as much as like my father give, even though my father not there long time” (lines 105-108)
This would indicate that the role of the entire family, as well as individual members, has had an important influence on the future behaviour of the participant. In addition to this, the relationship with individual family members has important consequences for the participant.
Culture & Religion:
The third theme that was found through the analysis of the data is that of culture and religion, and how individuals have influence the participant’s views of the world and his openness to other people’s religions and cultures:
“We come from a Muslim background but I had friends from all different backgrounds, different religions” (lines 17-18).
“my father always encouraged us to not be narrow-minded, to be open-minded, to question, to understand, to create a better relationship” (lines 18-20).
“be open minded and to get a good idea of the world around us and the way other people might think and what they might feel” (lines 24-26).
The support of friends and colleagues was another theme that came through towards the end of the interview. The participant discuss the influence these figures have had on his work and the encouragement they have given him in his professional life. For example:
“he’s someone who has encouraged me a lot to try to do better in my job, to … and encourage my, he said my inquisitive nature, to encourage me to be like this more” (lines 115-117).
“be very supportive and give me encouragement to, to do my job” (lines 120-121).
From this it seems that the participant’s friends and colleagues of support and advice in the participant’s present life compared to the support and guidance he used to receive off his father and his brother.
Attachment refers to the affectional or emotional bonds betweens infants and parent or caregiver with particular emphasis on the influence of the mother (Ainsworth, 1989; Bowlby, 1950/80, as cited by Bretherton, 1997, see The Open University, 2007, p.343). In addition to this, attachment and the forms in which attachment takes has been found to a long-lasting impact on an individual’s behaviour, personality and cognition (Ainsworth, 1989).
The findings of the present study support this notion that attachment can have long-standing influences on individuals, as demonstrated by the participant’s references to the influence his father has had on his outlook on life and his employment. In a similar sense, this helps explain the participant’s ways in which he views himself and how others view him, which supports the previous evidence on internal working models by Bowlby (1969/82, as cited by Kretchmar, Worsham & Swenson, 2005, see The Open University, 2007, p.348).
The findings of this study also support previous attachment research that has found that parents and/or caregivers are used as a secure psychological base from which an infant can explore the world (Bowlby, 1950/80, as cited by Bretherton, 1997, see The Open University, 2007, p.343).
An interesting finding from the present study is that the father figure has a very important role in the Muslim household, as provider, leader and advisor. This is counter to early theories of attachment which place particular emphasis on the role of the mother (Bowlby, 1950/80, as cited by Bretherton, 1997, see The Open University, 2007, p.343), however, it does support more developed theories of attachment, which understand the role of other caregivers in attachment and future behaviour and personality (Ainsworth, 1989; Bowlby, 1950/80, as cited by Bretherton, 1997, see The Open University, 2007, p.343). In this sense, it could be said that the present study support some of the findings of Rothbaum et. al. (2000) in relation to culture-specific difference in attachment. Future research should build on these findings in order to investigate the extent to which the father figure in communities of different religions is important in human development.
The interview was conducted by a woman, which may have led the participant to feel less able to discuss matter pertaining to relationships with females and even strong male figures, such as his father. This may have reduced the quality and richness of the data obtained. Hence, an improvement for the present study would be to conduct the interview using a male interviewer.
An improvement for the present study would be to further the research through use of another form of qualitative data analysis, such as discourse analysis, as thematic analysis is generally used as a basis upon which more detailed research is conducted (The Open University, 2007). In addition to this, it would also be interesting to see if there is any agreement with the findings if a quantitative study was conducted on the influence of significant others on development by means of a questionnaire, for example.
Research will inevitably be influenced by the researchers own experiences and opinions, and this is particularly poignant in qualitative research (Kelly, 1955, as cited by The Open University, 2007, p.329). As such, in order to avoid over-interpretation and/or misinterpretation, and so as to demonstrate an awareness of the role of the researcher in the research process (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, as cited by The Open University, 2007, p.329; King, 1996, as cited by The Open University, 2007, p.329; The Open University, 2007), a reflexive account of the study was deemed appropriate.
It is certainly the case that my experiences, culture, religion and upbringing has been completely different to that of the participant interviewed in the study. My father figure played less of a significant role in my life compared to that of my mother, which is opposite to the background and upbringing of the participant. In this sense, this may have influenced the way in which I perceived the role of the father in the life of the participant, viewing it as potentially more in a modelling sense than a supportive, loving manner. In addition to this, such experiences may have led to me ignoring the strength of the references to the participant’s mother and wife. In light of this, it could be beneficial for future research to use more than one researcher to interpret the data in a form of researcher triangulation so as to give a second point of view on the data. Yet, it is hoped that these potential avenues for interpretation have not unduly influenced the results of the study and the statements made in the discussion section are still valid.
In conclusion, with the problems of the present study in mind, particularly in light of the reflexive nature of the study, it would appear that the psychological phenomenon of attachment is an important factor in human development. Furthermore, parents, surrogates and other caregivers are highly important in attachment, exploration of the world and the development of long-lasting personality traits and behaviours.
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1989). Attachment Beyond Infancy. American Psychologist, 44(4): 709-716. In, The Open University. (2007). Exploring Psychological Research Methods. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press, pp.335-342.
Bretherton, I. (1997). Bowlby’s Legacy to Developmental Psychology. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 28(1): 33-43. In, The Open University. (2007). Exploring Psychological Research Methods. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press, pp.343-346.
Kretchmar, M.D., Worsham, N. L. & Swenson, N. (2005). Anna’s story: A qualitative analysis of an at-risk mother’s experiences in an attachment-based foster care program. Attachment & Human Development, 7(1): 31-49. In, The Open University. (2007). Exploring Psychological Research Methods. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press, pp.347-351.
Rothbaum, F., Weisz, J., Pott, M., Miyake, K. & Morelli, G. (2000). Attachment and Culture: Security in the United States and Japan. American Psychologist, 55(10): 1093-1104. In, The Open University. (2007). Exploring Psychological Research Methods. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press, pp.352-356.
The Open University. (2007). Exploring Psychological Research Methods. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press.
Appendix: Annotated Transcript.
Role of father figure. FF
Role of man. RM
Importance of family. IF
Role of brother. RB
Social support. SS
Family support. FS
Need/desire for family. NDF
JULIA WILLERTON: Okay. Can you tell me something, Assan, about the significant relationships that you had when you were growing up?
ASSAN: The first would be my father, simply because the society that we come from we … a father is a very important figure FF, is head of the household, but within the house itself, you know, the mother is the dominant person, but you know, as a man growing up in Yemen where I was born, the father would be the first person that you would seek guidance from FF RM, he’d be your spiritual leader, everything, is very important FF RM. And my father was a man who travelled a lot, because of his job RM. He was a merchandiser, so we never stayed in one place for very long.
JULIA WILLERTON: Can you say a little more about how the relationship with your father perhaps influenced the later relationships that you’ve had?
ASSAN: My father was someone who always, because of his job, always encouraged us to mix with people and get to know other cultures as well RM C OP. We come from a Muslim background but I had friends from all different backgrounds, different religions and my father always encouraged us to not be narrow-minded, to be open-minded, to question, to understand, to create a better relationship R C OP. And my father encouraged me to sit down and discuss and question FF, you know, what did I learn at school, so he could understand for himself, and then to encourage me to ask, ask these questions and to be open minded O and to get a good idea of the world around us and the way other people might think and what they might feel. So these things are all, all part and parcel of growing up with a father who was open minded, allowed us to question and encourage us to question FF. I really valued that and enjoyed that relationship with him when he was still … when he was travelling and sharing his stories with us when he’d come back.
JULIA WILLERTON: Can you say a little more about your family and where you were in the context of the family?
ASSAN: I come from a large family compared to what you might consider here IF. There was nine of us, five brothers, four sisters and I’m the youngest. My brother was the eldest RB. He was a … in some respects similar to father figure FF RB in that he was quite a bit older than me, but he was someone who I looked up to because my father was sometime not there all the time, you know, sometimes my older brother would take up the role of the head of family within, within our, within our family RM. So we were always encouraged to give respect to my brother RM. But also I felt he was very supportive of me RB. I think he felt I was the youngest, he had to protect me, look after me. When I was at school he would make sure I would fit in. He would ask me who my friends are. He would say to me: who are these friends? And he would encourage me to make sure that I was with friends with … boys that he considered were good and from good families RB FS and that he knew of, and it was good to be in a classroom where the teacher obviously knew of him and they said: oh, your brother’s very good student, you must, he must … you will be like him too. And so sometimes I feel little pressured to be as good as my brother RB RM.
JULIA WILLERTON: You said that when you were growing up, Assan, that your family moved around quite a lot. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and sort of impact that had on you in the relationships that you had?
ASSAN: Yes. Because we move very much from place to place and country to country, I was very fast at making friends very quickly at school because I was constantly F being the new, new boy in the classroom. So I … And because of how I was brought up to ask people questions to get to understand them, I asked questions very fast OP, you know, how, where are you from, what’s your background and why, why is it like this? So people could relate to me quickly, even though at first they might say who this is new person, we don’t trust. By me being myself and being open OP and asking them questions, they feel they get to know me and they feel that this person is not so bad after all F OP C R. So this has helped me within my job as well because I’m a journalist, I have to travel a lot across the world and see, go to many different places and to make these contacts, even within my job you have to be a person who is open, ask questions, be inquisitive and to gain people’s trust to make them open. So I feel I have this because we move around so much and able to make relationships fast. The other side of this is that because I move so quickly, I mean move from place to place, is that I don’t have friendships that go very long time back, so not how you would say very deep friendship. Because simply we move on, you try to stay in contact, but obviously you move on, you have new people to meet and so it goes on and on. Sometimes the … Although I said I make friends very quickly, I have many, many friends all over the world. Because I am not there for a very long time, I don’t develop these big, deep understanding relationships. So sometimes I do feel that we are friendly but we are not completely … I understand or you understand where I’m coming from. Sometimes I feel really, with regards to myself, because I move around so much, I feel who is, where am I really from, what is my own, own background, where is home for me? So I sometimes feel sometimes maybe I … do I understand them, I question myself, do I really understand? I try, I try to be open and ask as much, but do I really have an understanding because I’m not from that culture or country. It’s not under skin, as they say C.
JULIA WILLERTON: Can you say something, Assan, about the current relationships that are going on in your life?
ASSAN: Yes, I am married to a lady called Alya. We are very close. We do not have any children yet IF. This is something that we have been discussing about. I think I would like family IF. I came from a very big family, I have many brothers and sisters and so I feel one day I hope I’m able to have this with Alya. It’s just a question of my job, it’s a little difficult at present because it will be difficult for me to leave Alya with children because I would go away from home and this would be difficult for her RM, I think. And so I want to support her in this. I know she’s, she’s very keen to have children, start a family FS. I would like to but it’s difficult at present because of the job. I do have to leave UK quite a lot. I want to be a father who, FF who is there and supportive of my children and to give as much as like my father give, even though my father not there long time, he very FF, he spent very long time with children and with me, who discuss, ask me how I am, what I learn and wanting to know a lot about me. I hope one day I able to, I’m able to do this for my children IF RM FF.
JULIA WILLERTON: Would you like to say anything else about relationships that are important to you in your life at the moment, Assan?
ASSAN: Yes. Someone who I, who I quite look up to at present I would say is my boss SS RM, and he’s someone who has encouraged me a lot to try to do better in my job, to … and encourage my, he said my inquisitive nature O, to encourage me to be like this more, but to go further, to really get under and understand, and this helped me to be better within my job and also better for him. But he, he’s someone who very much encouraged, encouraged me and be very supportive and give me encouragement to, to do my job RM SS. And always he say to me: you do very good job for me. I want you to go, go more, take more step, take more chance and bring me something that really you think you won’t be able to do. So I feel he’s someone who has belief in me and who wants to see me do better, but also encouraging but wants me to do better. So I push myself more for him. He is very good within all team, within my work for that, but he very good for me I think SS.
JULIA WILLERTON: Thanks very much for that, Assan, that was great. I’d just like to check, how did taking part in that interview feel for you?
ASSAN: I feel I enjoy speaking to you really. I think it make me reflect on me as a person, I feel I’m going to leave the room, having spoken to you, with I suppose things I never think about before. And I think I have more understanding of my own self. So it has been very interesting for me.
JULIA WILLERTON: I’d just like to reiterate that the interview’s going to be transcribed and, and the details will be changed so that you won’t be able to be identified from that, Assan. I’d like you to sign a consent form, simply to say that you understand, really, that the interview is going to be used for research purposes.
JULIA WILLERTON: And thank you very much once again for taking part.
ASSAN: No, you are welcome.