ATTACHMENT - Explanations of attachment - learning theory

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  • Theories of attachment
    • Learning theory
      • the belief that attachments develop through conditioning processes
      • aka behaviourism
      • sees all behaviour as acquired through experience via the process of association
      • attachments seen as developing through an infant learning to associate a caregiver with feeding
      • 2 types of learning theory - classical conditioning and operant conditioning
      • learning aka Cupboard Love Theory
        • the belief that attachments are formed with people who feed infants
    • Classical conditioning
      • def: occurs when a response produced naturally by a certain stimulus, becomes associated with another stimulus that is not normally associated with that particular response
      • attachment are learned by the stimulus of food (unconditioned stimulus), which produces a natural response (unconditioned stimulus) being paired with caregiver (conditioned response)
      • after several occasions, the infant associates the caregiver with food. Infant then associates pleasure solely with the caregiver without the presence of food
      • food (UCS) -> pleasure (UCR)
        • food (UCS) + caregiver (CS) -> pleasure (UCR)
          • caregiver (CS) -> pleasure (CR)
    • Operant conditioning
      • def: learning occurring via reinforcement of behaviour, thus increasing chances of the behaviour occurring again
      • 'Law of Effect'
      • any action that has a pleasurable outcome will be repeated again in similar circumstances
      • pleasurable outcomes = reinforcements (will strengthen behaviour, making it more likely to be repeated)
        • positive reinforcements - receiving something pleasurable for performing a certain behaviour (pocket money for doing chores)
        • negative reinforcements - avoiding something non-pleasurable for performing a certain behaviour (not getting grounded for tidying room)
      • attachments form through caregivers becoming associated with reducing the unpleasant feeling of hunger (neg rein) so that the caregiver becomes a source of reward
    • Evidence
      • Dollard and Miller (1950) - in first year, babies are fed 2,000 times, generally by their main carer, which creates many opportunities for carer to become associated with the removal of the unpleasant feeling of hunger (neg rein). Support to idea of operant conditioning
      • Schaffer and Emerson (1964) - in 39% of cases, the mother (usually main carer) was not the baby's main attach figure, suggesting that feeding is not the primary explanation of attach. Against learning theory
      • Fox (1977) - attach bonds between mothers, babies and metapelets of Israeli kibbutzim (communal farms). Metapelets = trained, full-time carers of newborn children, allowing mothers to work (though some time spend with parents). Generally, children more attached to mothers than metapelets. Against theory as metapelets did majority of feeding
    • Evaluation (A03)
      • conditioning best explains the learning of simple behaviours, but attachs are more complex with emotional components. Also, attachs develop with people who do not feed babies, casts doubt on learning theory
      • Schaffer (1971) - 'cupboard love' theories put things wrong way round. Babies don't live to eat, but eat to live, thus actively seek stimulation, not passively receive nutrition
      • Bowlby (1973) - babies only need food occasionally, but constantly require the emotional security that closeness to an attach figure provides. Suggests - food and learning theory, is not the main reason for formation of attachs. Conditioning and reinforcement through feeding probably play a part in helping form attachs, but not main reason
      • behaviourist explanation are reductionist - explain complex behaviours in a  too simple way. When explaining attachs in terms of feeding, behaviourism doesn't consider internal cognitive processes or the emotional nature of attachs.

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