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  • Created by: AlexLacey
  • Created on: 22-04-16 16:16

The Basics

Attachment = A two-way, strong emotional tie between two people that develops over time and is shown in their behaviour

There are four characteristics of attachment according to Maccoby (1980):

Seeking proximity- The desire to be close to the person with whom you are attached

Separation anxiety- The distress that results from being separated 

Pleasure when reunited- Relief and Observable joy when reunited 

General orientation of behaviour towards the caregiver- Awareness of where the person is and the reassurance felt when they are close 

Reciprocity = Infant and caregiver are both active contributors to the interaction and respond to each other

Interactional synchrony = The timing and pattern of interaction, which is often rhythmic and includes both infant and caregiver mirroring each others behaviour

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Supporting studies- Interactional Synchrony

Condon and Sander (1974) investigated interactions between infant and caregiver in relation to responses to adult speech. They reported that 'as early as the first day of life, the human neonate moves in precise and sustained segments of movement that are synchronous with the articulated structure of adult speech'.

Meltzoff and Moore (1983) found that infants as young as three days old could imitate the facial expressions of adults; this implies that the ability to imitate and mirror is an innate behaviour.

Isabella et al observed 30 mothers and infants together and assesed the degree of synchrony. They found higher levels of synchrony associated with a better quality of mother-infant attachment (e.g. the emotional intensity of the relationship)

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Schaffer and Emerson

Aim: To investigate the formation of early attachment, in particular the age of this development, the emotional intensity and to whom they were directed.

Method: Observed 60 Glaswegian babies for 18 months, mostyl from skilled working class families. Mothers and babies were visited once a month for the first year and then again at 18 months.

Results: Between 25-32 weeks, 50% of babies showed separation anxiety towards a particular adult, usually biological mothers or primary attachment figures. Attachment tended to be to the caregiver that was most sensitive to the infants signals and facial expressions, but this was not necessarily towards the person who spent most time with the infant. At 40 weeks, nearly 30% had formed multiple attachments.

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Schaffer's Stages of Attachment

Asocial (0-6 weeks)

  • Babies produce a similar response to objects and people and do not prefer specific individuals
  • They have a bias towards human-like stimuli and prefer to look at faces/eyes
  • They rapidly learn to discriminate familiar people from unfamiliar by their smell and voice

Indiscriminate (6 weeks-6 months)

  • Babies become more social
  • They can tell people apart and prefer to be in human company
  • They are relatively easily comforted by anyone and do not prefer specific individuals
  • They do not show fear of strangers

Specific attachments (7 months+)

  • The baby begins to show separation anxiety, protesting when their primary attachment figure leaves them
  • They begin to show a fear of strangers
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Schaffer's Stages of Attachment continued

Multiple attachments (10/11 months+)

  • Multiple attachments follow the first
  • The baby shows attachmentbehaviours towards several people, such as siblings, grandparents and childminders
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Animal research in Attachment

Konrad Lorenz

Aim: To find out how young animals attach (imprint) to their mothers and how this gave them an increased chance of survival

Method: Carried out an experiment using grey lag geese; he set two conditions

  • Condition 1- He was the first moving object seen by the geese after they hatched
  • Condition 2- Mother goose was the first moving object seen by the geese after they hatched

Results: Lorenz found that the chicks who saw him before anything else, followed him as if he was their mother. When they were adults, they perfomed mating displays towards him and ignored other geese. The chicks who saw their mother first followed her when young and performed mating rituals towards other geese in adult life.

Lorenz also found that geese have a 'critical period' of just a few hours in which to imprint

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Animal research in Attachment

Sluckin (1966)

Aim: To find out whether there was actually a critical period, as proposed by Lorenz

Method: Performing a replication fo Lorenz's research but using ducklings, he successfully imprinted them onto himself. He kept one duckling in isolation for five days (much longer than the established critical period).

Results: He found it was still possible to imprint the isolated youngster and conluded that the critical period was actually a 'sensitive period'; a length of time where imprinting was at its optimum, but beyond which attachments could still be formed


Found that monekys attached to a soft surrogate, but would not form attachments to a wire surrogate that dispensed milk. This suggest that monkeys don't associate food with the caregiver to form an attachment.

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Classical Conditioning in Attachment

  • Food (Unconditioned Stimulus) -> Pleasure (Unconditioned Response)
  • Mother (Neutral Stimulus) -> No Response
  • Food (Unconditioned Stimulus) + Mother (Neutral Stimulus) -> Pleasure (Unconditioned Response)
  • Mother (Conditioned Stimulus) -> Pleausre (Conditioned Response)

-Being fed gives us pleasure; it is an unconditioned response

-The caregiver starts as a neurtal stimulus, but when the same person provides food, other time they becoming associated with being fed

-After conditioning, the caregiver produces a feeling of pleasure in the infant (conditioned response)

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Operant Conditioning in Attachment

Example- A baby is crying...

Positive reinforcement

  • Crying leads to a response from the caregiver (e.g. feeding)
  • As long as the caregiver provides the correct response, the infant's crying is reinforced
  • The baby will then cry for comfort, and the caregiver with respond with comforting behaviour

Negative reinforcement

  • The caregiver receives NR because the crying stops (escaping something negative reinforces behaviour)
  • Feeding or comforting the baby stops it from crying, therefore these behaviours are likely to be repeated
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Bowlby's Theory of Attachment

Bowlby (1958) proposed that human infants have an innate tendency to form attachments to their primary caregiver, most often their mother. His theory consists of four parts:

  • Adaptive- Attachments are adaptive, they give our species an 'adaptive advantage', making us more likely to survive. If an infant has an attachment to a caregiver, they are kept safe, given food and kept warm
  • Social releasers- Babies had social releasers which 'unlock' the innate tendency of adults to care for them. These social releasers are both physcial (typical 'baby face' feature and body proportions) and behavioural (crying, cooing)
  • Critical period- A set time in which imprinting must occur and attachments must be formed
  • Monotropy- A child will initially form only one primary attachment. The attachment figure acts as a secure base for exploring the world and as a prototype for all future relationships
  • Internal working model- A set of beliefs about the self, others and relationships 
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Ainsworth- The Strange Situation

'The Strange Situation', conducted by Mary Ainsworth, is a technique that places the infant in different situations to research the quality of attachment to the caregiver.


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Ainsworth- The Strange Situation

5 things were examined during The Strange Situation:

  • Proximity seeking- An infant with good attachment will stay close to the caregiver
  • Exploration and secure base behaviour- Good attachment enables the child to explore
  • Stranger anxiety- A sign of attachment is show by anxiety when a stranger approaches
  • Separation anxiety- A sign of attachment is shown by protest at separation from caregiver
  • Response to reunion- How the infatn reactions to being reunited with the caregiver

Children explored the room more enthusiatically with mother present than absent

Reunion with the caregiver indicated 3 types of attachment:

  • Insecure-avoidant
  • Securely attached
  • Insecure-resistant
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Ainsworth- The Strange Situation

15% Insecure-Avoidant

  • Infants ignored their mothers and her absence did not affect their play; they did not return to her at any intervals
  • Infants displayed little distress when their mother left and showed little stranger anxiety

75% Securely attached

  • Infants played contently with their mother present and would return to her periodically 
  • During reunions, they sought comfort from her before continuing to play
  • Mother and stranger were treated differently with moderate separation distress and stranger anxiety

15% Insecure-resistant

  • Infants were fusyy/wary even with mother present; they explored less and stayed by her side
  • They showed huge stranger distress and separation anxiety
  • They sought comfort on her return but simultaneously showed anger and fought her contact
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