Attachment and amae: a comparative study of mother-child close relationships in Japan and Britain
Attachment theory addresses the young child’s biological and psychological need to elicit their mother’s protection and care, and seeks to explain the emotional bond that forms between them in the early years of life. Several researchers have pointed out that the Western concept of attachment might be less relevant for Japanese parent-child dyads because Japanese child-rearing ideals are based on the concept of ‘amae’ (emotional one-ness between mother and child), whereas attachment theory emphasises the link between attachment and independence/autonomy. Research to date, however, has not yet directly addressed the possible association between maternal amae attitudes and attachment patterns in Japanese mother-child dyads. This is, in part, due to the current lack of any assessment tool to measure mothers’ responses to their child’s amae behaviours. Japanese attachment patterns have also not yet been investigated using the Manchester Child Attachment Story Task (MCAST: Green et al., 2000), a doll-play attachment measurement for children aged between 4 and 8 years old which has been used in Western contexts. This doctoral thesis consists of three cross-cultural empirical studies which address this gap in the current literature. In the first study, a 39-item prototype amae attitude scale (AAS) was constructed based on responses from Japanese focus groups and an earlier study of amae behaviours (Vereijken et al., 1997). The scale was subsequently completed by Japanese and British mothers. Japanese mothers were found to be more tolerant in general than British mothers of their child’s amae behaviours, in all 4 sub-categories explored (pure, asking, frustrated, and anxious amae), with cultural differences most marked in maternal attitudes towards their children’s anxious-amae behaviour. The second study addressed two questions: whether attachment behaviours differ in Japanese and British 4-5 year olds (measured with the MCAST) and whether there is a relationship between children’s MCAST attachment classifications and maternal attitudes towards children’s amae behaviours (measured with the AAS) in Japanese and British dyads. Contrary to what has been found in some of the previous Japanese Strange Situation studies, the distribution of MCAST attachment classifications was similar in the two countries. As predicted from the results of study 1, the AAS scores of Japanese mothers also indicated that they were significantly more tolerant of their child’s amae behaviours than their British counterparts. This was true for both mothers of securely and insecurely attached children. A tendency for mothers of securely attached children to have less tolerant attitudes towards children’s amae behaviours than those of insecurely attached children was found in both countries. A cultural difference also emerged in the way children expressed the maternal needs of the child doll during the mildly stressful scenarios in the MCAST. The third study examined actual mother-child interaction in both countries, measuring the mother’s emotional availability to the child (using the Emotional Availability Scale: Biringen, 2000) and relating this to both maternal AAS and child MCAST data. The results showed that emotional availability scores and attachment classification patterns did not differ across cultures. Analysis of the home observations also indicated that children from both cultures who were classified as insecurely attached (ambivalent and disorganised type) in the MCAST tended to show more amae behaviours towards their mothers than children classified as securely attached. Together, these three studies suggest that children in both counties show similar attachment patterns and that it is not only Japanese children who express amae behaviours towards their mothers. In fact, amae relates to attachment security in both cultures, although the way it is expressed and maternal attitudes towards such behaviours differ across cultures.