Evaluation of Bowlby 1944


Evaluation - Methodology and Procedures

Alternative evidence

  • No causal findings - variable not manipulated (prolonged separation caused emotional problems experienced by thieves). Relationship only demonstrated. May be other variables that caused problems. E.g. discord in home caused prolonged separations and affectionless character. Or character caused separations. No causal conclusions can be drawn.
  • Biased data - rich record of qualitative data on each participant, extensive interviews with children and families. Over 25 pages in report detailing case histories of thieves, advantage of providing insights into events that preceeded problems. Data limited - based on view of 1 person. Perceptions may be biased by own beliefs. Case histories largely biased on recollections of parents about events that occured years previously. Recollections inaccurate, portrayal of events positively, rosier picture of early childhood.
  • Sample - all 88 children emotionally disturbed. May be appropriate to generalise from sample to all. May be delinquents no emotional disturbance and cause of delinquency may be more social than emotional. Useful to examine sample of children appearing in curt for stealing to determine whether all cases similar (Bowlby's suggestion).
  • 1 criticism - muddled together several different experiences.
  • Separation alone may not cause long lasting damage, especially if good subsitutive emotional care. Research shown sensitive period in development - lack of emotional care before 6 months - children can recover - Rutter and Sonuga-Barke - romanian orphans.
  • Bowlby's basic conclusion supported in subsequent research. lack of emotional care during key periods of development - lasting and serious consequences. Physical underdevelopment, intellectual retardation, difficulties in later relationships.
  • Michael Rutter et al. 2010 - Romanian orphans who were adopted before or after 6 months. Those adopted later lagged behind control group of UK children on all measures of physical, cognitive and social development.

Ethical Issues and Social Implications 

Other information              

  • Confidentiality and privacy - no confidentiality. Report gave first names and initial letter of last name. Case histories extensive detail of lives. Not clear from report to what extent children and families aware info would be published. Details collected in interviews with Bowlby as part of treatment. Some participants may not have wanted details published.
  • Valid consent - where children are involved in research usually accepted parents asked to provide valid consent. More usual today for children to be informed on nature and purpose of research.
  • Article - data collected as routine part of treatment at clinic, decision to use data retrospective. Children and families seen at clinic 1936-39, report published in 1946. Suggests clinic team would not have decided to use data for study at time, difficult to obtain consent five years later.
  • Attitudes on ethics of research changed after war when first ethical guidelines published.


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