Explanations of Attachment: Learning Theory

Covers, classical/operant conditioning and evaluations using the AQA Psychology textbook.

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  • Explanations of Attachment: Learning Theory
    • Classical Conditioning
      • Associating two stimuli together so we respond in the same way to both.
      • Food is the Unconditioned Stimulus.
      • Being fed gives pleasure, an unconditioned response.
      • Caregiver is the neutral stimulus, producing neutral response.
      • Caregiver gives baby food over time, baby associates this with food.
      • Neutral response turns into conditioned response.
    • Operant Conditioning
      • Learning to repeat behaviour (or not).
      • If behaviour produces good consequence, likely to be repeated (reinforced).
      • Behaviour with negative consequence not likely to be repeated.
      • Explains why babies cry for comfort.
      • Crying provides response from caregiver, if correct response, crying reinforced.
      • Crying for comfort towards caregiver who responds with comforting 'social suppressor' behaviour.
      • Baby is reinforced for crying, caregiver receives negative reinforcement as crying stops.
    • Attachment as a secondary drive
      • Learning theory draws on the concept of drive reduction.
      • Hunger is primary drive- innate biological motivator.
        • Eat to reduce hunger drive.
          • Learning theory draws on the concept of drive reduction.
      • Sears et al- 1957- caregivers provide food (primary) becomes generalised to them. Attachment is secondary drive learned through association.
    • Evaluations
      • Counter-research from animal research.
        • Lorenz's geese imprinted on him before being fed.
        • Harlow's monkeys preferred 'cloth mother' over 'wire mother' who dispersed milk.
      • Counter-research from human research.
        • Schaffer & Emerson study- infants formed a primary attachment to biological mother, even when other carers did most of the feeding.
      • Ignores other factors associated with forming attachments.
        • Ignores reciprocity and good levels of interactional synchrony (Isabella et al (1989).
          • Studies show that best attachments are with sensitive carers who pick up infant signal s and responf to them.
            • Hard to justify these findings with the idea of cupboard love.
      • A newer learning theory explanation.
        • Hay & Vespo (1988)
          • New theory based on SLT. Parents teach infants to love them by modelling attachment behaviour, rewarding them with approval.
      • Some elements of conditioning could still be involved.
        • Many aspects of attachment are influenced by conditioning.
          • Classical conditioning between primary caregiver & provision of comfort/social interaction is the part of what builds the attachment.


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