The development of a fetus is influenced by a multitude of factors throughout the process. While the exact number of these influences and their relative weight is unclear, they are most commonly divided into two broad categories: biological and environmental determinants.
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The biological side of the process is mainly determined by the genetic predisposition to certain traits. The chief characteristics of postnatal development, such as growth rate, weight gain, motor skill dynamics, and susceptibility to certain diseases and health conditions, are mostly based on heredity.
The environment also has a major impact on prenatal development. While the common understanding of the environmental influence is restricted to the chemical teratogens – external substances which alter the patterns of development, such as alcohol or nicotine, the actual list is not limited by the chemical influences. The physical teratogens, such as the temperature, photoperiod, and patterns of food consumption patterns, all allow the fetus to develop more fit for the environment. Interestingly, alongside the immediate changes in the developing organism, environmental factors can inhibit or catalyze functions of certain phenotypes, leading to the long-term effects observable throughout childhood and adolescence. In this way, the environment triggers a change in biological development, which is not easily distinguishable from the inherent properties, especially if a mother has been born to the same environment and possesses the same set of suppressed and activated genes.
This setup leads to two possible conclusions. On one hand, the environmental factors such as alcohol, tobacco, and a wide variety of drugs, which have a serious detrimental impact on the development of the fetus, are relatively easily avoided, making their impact virtually negligible. On the other hand, the influence of the more persistent teratogens, determined by climate and dietary habits, are usually visible throughout the individual’s lifespan through epigenetic changes, as was demonstrated in the study by Feil and Fraga (2012). It is thus justified to say that environment has the most lasting impact on fetus development.
The importance of infant attachment is important for several reasons. First, once we presume that the attachment is an intrinsic mechanism, which it is according to the growing body of evidence, it becomes clear that disrupting the natural process will likely result in a major adverse effect. At the same time, the neuroplasticity of infants suggests a higher risk of undesirable social and psychological outcomes, which will become more difficult to mitigate later in life. The stress resulting from the anxiety of being separated from caregivers can lead to complications in psychological development. Considering the tendencies of developed societies that restrict caregivers from devoting appropriate time and effort to nurturing their children, the question of understanding the principles of attachment, as well as the consequences of ignoring them, becomes especially relevant.
A study by Mary Ainsworth is usually credited as being defining research, responsible, among other things, for categorizing the attachment as secure, anxious-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, and disorganized. However, the explanation of the mechanisms behind insecure attachment types remained largely speculative at the time of the initial study. Since then, a number of studies focused on these types, measuring, among other things, the relation between the anxieties in early childhood and the decision making ability in adolescence. A study by Van Petegem, Beyers, Brenning, & Vansteenkiste (2013) established a relation between avoidance and dependent decision-making. At the same time, anxiety was associated with both independent and dependent decision-making (Van Petegem et al., 2013). These results not only allow for a better understanding of the previously under-researched types but confirm the initial hypothesis by Ainsworth that the resentment displayed by the insecurely attached children is actually a “mask” used to conceal the actual discomfort. The responses in the study indicate the uncertainty between seeking proximity with caregivers and at distancing from them. Such a setting creates constant pressure regardless of the direction taken by the insecure types.
Feil, R., & Fraga, M. F. (2012). Epigenetics and the environment: emerging patterns and implications. Nature Reviews Genetics, 13(2), 97-109.
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Van Petegem, S., Beyers, W., Brenning, K., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2013). Exploring the association between insecure attachment styles and adolescent autonomy in family decision making: A differentiated approach. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(12), 1837-1846.