A new study has revealed that the ability to trust, love, and resolve conflict with loved ones starts in childhood—way earlier than we may think.
“Your interpersonal experiences with your mother during the first 12 to 18 months of life predict your behaviour in romantic relationships 20 years later,” said psychologist Jeffry A. Simpson, who co-author the study with University of Minnesota colleagues W. Andrew Collins and Jessica E. Salvatore.
“Before you can remember, before you have language to describe it, and in ways you aren’t aware of, implicit attitudes get encoded into the mind about how you’ll be treated or how worthy you are of love and affection,” they explained.
While those attitudes can change with new relationships, introspection, and therapy, in times of stress old patterns often reassert themselves.
The mistreated infant becomes the defensive arguer; the baby whose mom was attentive and supportive works through problems, secure in the goodwill of the other person.
This is an “organizational” view of human social development.
“People find a coherent, adaptive way, as best as they can, to respond to their current environments based on what’s happened to them in the past,” noted Simpson.
What happens to you as a baby affects the adult you become: It’s not such a new idea for psychology—but solid evidence for it has been lacking.
The finding appeared in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.