AS Psychology | 2 Developmental Psychology | Attachment

Overview on attachment.

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What causes or influences how we develop and chang

Developmental changes are caused or influenced by both biological factors (nature) and environmental factors (nurture).

1. Biological factors (nature)

  • refers to the genetic material that we physically inherit from our parents at birth
  • these genes carry instructions that determines many aspects of our physical make-up

2. Environmental factors (nurture)

  • refers to anything in the environments we live in that may influence our development
  • these can include:
    • early childhood experiences
    • relationships
    • educational or social opportunities -> the influence on our behaviour from the culture we live in, even our family's economic status
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What is an attachment?

An attachment is a strong emotional relationship between two people that develops over time and is reciprocal.

It is shown in their behaviour:

  • distress on separation
  • pleasure on being reunited
  • interactive engagement
  • a desire to maintain closeness
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Learning theory

Learning theory argues that environmental factors (nurture) are primarily responsible for the formation of an attachment as all behaviour is learnt from our interaction with the world around us.

Learning theory is a behavioural explanation with assumes that:

  • all behaviour is learnt
  • learning happens through operant conditioning and classical conditioning
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Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is learning through consequence.

  • if you learn that a behaviour of theirs is rewarded then this behaviour is likely to be repeated more often
  • if you learn that a behaviour of theirs is punished in some way then that behaviour is not likely to be repeated

There are two ways in which a behaviour can be rewarded:

1. Positive reinforcement -> when the behaviour is encouraged because it is rewarded by something positive

2. Negative reinforcement -> when the behaviour is encouraged because it removes or stops something unpleasant

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Operant conditioning: Skinner

Skinner was a behavioural psychologist who proposed the principle of operant conditioning. He investigated in controlled laboratory experiments using pigeons and rats.

  • he placed an animal in a cage which had a lever in it
  • the animals initially pressed the lever by accident but soon learnt the connections between pressing the layer and appearance of food
  • the food acted as a reward which positively reinforced the lever pressing behaviour

He also performed similar laboratory studies with the same animals to explore the effects of punishments on behaviour.

  • if the lever was pressed it gave the animal an electric shock
  • this decreased the likelihood of the lever pressing behaviour being repeated
  • the animals quickly learned that the lever pressing reunited in negative consequence
  • eventually the lever pressing was extinguished in these animals

While Skinner's experiments provide some evidence for operant conditioning, they also raise ethical issues and the findings may also not be applied to humans as he used animals.

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How is operant conditioning used to explain how at

  • the infant starts to cry when it feel discomfort caused by unpleasant hunger pains
  • the caregiver responds to the crying by feeding the infant -> removes the discomfort caused by hunger pains
  • the infant learns that their crying led to the removal of the discomfort
  • this means the infant is more likely to cry again in the future when it feels discomfort
  • the infants' crying behaviour has been negatively reinforced, as it is reward through the removal of something negative

The same theory happens with the caregiver themselves:

  • the sound of the baby crying makes the caregiver distressed
  • the infant stops crying when it is fed by the caregiver, they stop feeling distressed
  • the caregiver is more likely to respond to the child's crying by feeding it in the future if it makes them feel less distressed
  • the caregiver's 'feeding' behaviour has been 'negatively reinforced' as it rewards through the removal of something negative


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Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning assumes that we learn by associating a behavioural response with a specific stimulus.

It argues that an animal or person can learn to react or respond to a new sitmulus in the same way as it responds to an old stimulus, by learning to associate the response it has to the old stimulus with new stimulus.


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How is classical conditioning used to explain how

Classical conditioning could be used to explain how the baby may become attached to the primary caregiver.

  • infants automatically from birth feel pleasure when given food (e.g. milk)
  • the feelings of pleasure in response to food are called an ‘unconditioned response’ as it did not have to be learned because it is an unlearned automatic reflex.
  • food (e.g. milk) is an unconditioned stimulus’ (US), which causes an unconditioned response’ (UR) of pleasure in the infant when it drinks it.

The person who usually feeds the baby is initially known as a neutral stimulus because s/he does not cause any response from the child in the beginning.

  • However, over time the infant learns to associate the person who feeds him/her (i.e. primary caregiver) with the sense of pleasure s/he feels when fed.
  • Eventually the primary caregiver alone causes a response of pleasure in the infant, when no food is around (i.e. at this point the caregiver has become a conditioned (i.e. learned) stimulus with a conditioned response of pleasure).
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