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  • Created on: 21-12-10 12:07

DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

Maternal deprivation hypothesis and the evolutionary perspective theory on attachment are separate studies:   

In the Maternal deprivation hypothesis there is no mention of evolutionary principles, social releasers, internal working model or the continuity hypothesis.

The maternal deprivation hypothesis states that if an infant was unable to develop a ‘warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother-substitute), then the child would have difficulty forming relationships with other people and be at risk of behavioural disorders.  

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

There are 3 key factors of the hypothesis define each:

Continuous relationships


The hypothesis focuses on the importance of a continuous/stable relationship between a child and their mother or permanent mother substitute. If a child has a discontinuous relationship (where there are separations) their development of attachment would be disrupted because it's unstable and less predictable. 

The critical period:

Bowlby states that the continuous relationship MUST occur during the critical period. (first 2 and a half years) If the child experiences repeated separations they are more like to become emotionally disturbed. After the age of 5 it is thought that children are more able to cope with separation.

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis


Bowlby suggests that the mother-child bond is of a different quality than for example nursery teacher-child bond. The belief that an infant has to form an attachment with one primary care giver for healthy emotional development. This is most likely to be the mother, although it doesn't have to be. 

 Bowlby claimed that if these three factors do not occur, then the child’s social and emotional development are at risk.

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

Evidence supporting Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis?

A study of 44 juvenile thieves by Bowlby (1944) 


To see if frequent early separations were associated with a risk of behavioural disorders. In particular a disorder called affectionless psychopathy -individuals who have no sense of shame/guilt and lack of social conscience. 

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis


Participants - 88 Ages - 5-16 (they'd all be referred to the child guidance clinic where Bowlby worked)

44 were sent because they had been caught stealing - affectionless psychopaths 

The remaining 44 children in the control group hadn't stolen anything but had been referred to the clinic because they were emotionally maladjusted but didn't display antisocial behaviour -they weren't diagnosed with affectionless psychopathy.

Bowlby interviewed the children and their families and was able to create a record of their early life experiences. 

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

Findings: The thieves showed a considerably higher percentage of maternally deprived children and a much higher percentage affectionless psychopaths - whereas the control group had no affectionless psychopaths and only 4% maternally deprived. 

Conclusions: Maternal deprivation leads to affectionless psychopathy and deliquency

Evaluation (Negative)

- No clear cause and effect

- Data was collected retrospectively and therefore may not be reliable because parents may not have recalled correct times of separations accurately

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

Further analysis

 Skeels & Dye - compared the development of one group of orphans raised in home for women who were mentally retarded. They found that after 1 and half years the orphan's looked after by the women had increased dramatically IQs. This suggest the effects of maternal deprivation can be reversed. 

Spitz and Wolf (1946) Further support for the maternal deprivation hypothesis 

They studied 100 children who'd become severely depressed after staying in hospital. They found that children generally recovered well if the separation lasted less than three months. Any longer than 3 months and there were rarely any complete recoveries. 

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

Evaluation of Bowlby’s Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis 

Using institutionalised children is problematic because it's possible that factors other than maternal deprivation could be responsible for a child's subsequent development. 

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

Not all research has found that deprivation leads to maladjustment, Bowlby (1956) studied a group of child patients who had lengthy stays in hospital for TB.  He found that there were no differences in terms of delinquency or problems in forming relationships.

What does this mean?

Therefore it appears that deprivation doesn't have harmful effects. Bowlby suggests that individual differences are more important. (e.g. children who are securely attached may cope better with deprivation as opposed to insecurely attached children)

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DOA - Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis

Bowlby confused cause and effect with association - the fact that early separation and later maladjustment are linked doesn't necessarily mean one caused the other. 

Bowlby did not distinguish between different kinds of deprivation -an infant can be deprived of a caregiver's presence (meaning they'd formed an attachment) but it may be privation not deprivation that has the irreversible effects on a child's development. 

The Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis had an enormous impact on the way we treat children.

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