Learning Theory of Attachment

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  • Learning Theory of Attachment
    • Classical Conditioning
      • 1. Food (unconditioned response) produces pleasure.
      • 2. Person who feeds infant (controlled stimulus) eventually produces pleasure.
      • 3. Becomes a controlled response and pleasure occurs do to association with food.
    • Operant Conditioning
      • 1. Primary Reinforcer: A hungry infant feels uncomfortable this creates a drive to remove the discomfort.
      • 2. When the infant is fed the drive is reduced inducing feelings of pleasure.
      • 3. Secondary Reinforcer: The person who supplies the food is associated with relieving discomfort.
    • Strengths
      • Learning theory does explain attachment, we do acquire attachment through association and reinforcement.
        • However food is not the reinforcer.
        • E.g. a caregiver who is responsive is providing reinforcement.
    • Limitations
      • Contact comfort is more important.
        • Harlow conducted an animal experiment.
          • 1. Infants were placed in a cage with two wire mothers.
          • 2. The lactating mother had a feeding bottle attached and the other mother had a cloth attached but no food.
          • 3. The monkeys spent most time with the cloth monkey.
        • Harlow's study showed that although food is a factor of attachment, it is not a primary one.
          • Contact is more important as the monkeys showed proximity seeking behavior towards the cloth.
      • Human studies also challenge the importance of food in attachment.
        • Shaffer and Emerson conducted a controlled observation of 60 babies for a year.
          • Infants not most attached to those who fed them.
          • Most attached to those who were responsive and interacted with them most.
        • Shaffer and Emerson's study showed that responsive behavior is a key factor of attachment.


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