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Learning Theory Operant Conditiong

An attachment is a strong emotional bond that develops over time between an infant and its caregiver/s. It's reciprocal since each partner is attached to the other. 

Maccoby 1980 identified four behaviours which demonstrate attachment in young children seeing proximity closeness especially in times of stress, distress on separation, pleasure when reunited and general orientation towards the caregiver.

Operant conditioning is the father of behaviourism. Burrhus F Skinner worked on learned behaviour in animals. He designed a piece of apparatus which consisted of a special cage called a Skinner box. The cage had a lever on one wall which, when accidentally pressed by the animal, usually a rat,during its exploration of the cage, released a pellet of food. The animal soon learned to voluntarily press the lever in order to gain a good reward. Positive reinforcement. Action + Reward (reinforcer) = Repeat. Work and get paid, try hard at a sport and get a trophy.

Skinner also worked on negative reinforcement, he electrified one half of the grid in the bottom of the animals cage and sounded a buzzer just before he administered a shock to the animals feet. The rat soon learned to move to the non electrified side of the box on hearing the buzzer sound. Negative reinforcement is avoidance learning. Warning + Action = Avoidance. A real life example of negative reinforcement is smoking, the reduction in nicotine causes cravings which are satisfied by having another cigarette, the cigarette switches off the unpleasant feelings of the craving and so smoking behaviour is likely to be repeated. Applying this to attachment, a newborn baby cried, because it's hungry, negatively reinforcing for parents because the sound of the baby crying makes them feel uncomfortable, parent will feed and cuddle the baby, the baby stops crying, reducing the feeling of discomfort in the parent, from the babies point of view, the crying produced a reward or positive reinforcement which makes crying likely to be chosen again the next time the baby experiences discomfort.

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Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is based on involuntary association between two stimuli. Ivan Pavlov noticed the dogs in his lab salivated in response to the keepers footsteps as they approached with their food. Since dogs don't normally salivate to the sound of footsteps, it was clear that they had associated the sound with anticipation of the food that was to come.

Unconditioned Stimulus (US), Unconditioned Response (UR), Conditioned Stimulus (CS), Conditioned Response (CR). 

Food (US) -> Salivation (UR) : normal reflex. Food (US) + Sound of footsteps (CS) -> Salivation. Sound of footsteps (CS) -> Salivation (CR).

We can explain attachment behaviour in terms of classical conditioning. The stimulus of the milk (US) produced pleasure (UR) the person who feeds the baby becomes associated (CS) with the milk, present when milk is given. Eventually the baby feels secondary pleasure in the company of the person who normally feeds it (CR). 

This idea has become known as the 'cupboard love hypothesis' since it sees food as the main reason for attachment.

Learning theory predicts that the strongest attachment will be with the person who offers the greatest pleasure to the infant, most likely this will be the person who feeds it.

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Schaffer and Emerson, Harlow and Zimmermans

Schaffer and Emerson 1964 found that fewer than half the infants they observed had a primary (preferred, strongest) attachment to the person who fed them and took care of their physical needs in addition, these theories can't explain why many children become attached or neglectful parents (Schaffer 1971).

Harlow and Zimmermans 1959 most convincing pieces of evidence that food isn't the main reason for attachment.They worked with rhesus monkeys, infants were taken from their mother shortly after birth and raised in a cage with two surrogate mothers.

1) Wire mother with feeding bottle attached. 2) Soft terry towelling mother.

They tested the idea that, if food theories were correct, the monkeys would attach to the wire mother since it provides food. This wasn't the case, all monkeys preferred the soft mother and would spend many hours clinging to it, only briefly leaving it to feed from the wire mother. The baby monkeys were very distressed if the soft mother was removed from the cage, infants would explore new toys but only if soft mother was in the room and they ran to the soft mother and hid their face when a clock work teddy bear was introduced to the cage.This work suggests that rather than food being the centre of attachment behaviour, the need to keep proximity 'tactile comfort' is. Mother figure seems to be the main factor in attachment behaviour. We must remember that although this work has many parallels with observations on humans, it does use primates and therefore, can't be directly generalised to humans. The monkeys were placed in a highly unrealistic situation, deprived of all social contact, situation which is particularly damaging, could affect results.

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Evolutionary Explanation

John Bowlby the famous child psychologist who began working on attachment in the 1940s. After looking closely at the behaviour of children who were evacuated during WW2, he put forward a theory of attachment in 1959. His theory was based on the work of ethologist Konrad Lorenz 1935 who found that greylag geese and other birds, which are mobile after hatching, have evolved a special survival mechanism called imprinting. This mechanism makes the birds instinctively follow the first thing it sees, even if that happened to be Lorenz himself. He also found that this must occur within a critical period of 32 hours after hatching or it wouldn't occur at all.

It's clear that imprinting has survival value in animals which are mobile soon after birth as it keeps them close to their parents and safe from predators. How this relates to humans, Bowlby believed that human infants have a similar survival mechanism, an innate drive to become attached, which makes them want to keep proximity to a preferred attachment figure. 

He believed that although a child might have many attachment, he had the tendency to seek out one special attachment to his preferred or primary attachment figure, usually his mother, this was the 1950s, this idea is called monotropy. Bowlby further believed that the baby was born with innate mechanisms called social releasers such as crying and smiling, specifically designed to make their parents want to care for them. Like Lorenz, Bowlby believed that attachment must happen with an optimal window of development known as the sensitive period. He believed that, in humans this period was during the first 3 years of life. He also believed that the attachment a child formed with his primary caregiver, gave the child an internal working model or blueprint on which all his future relationships would be based, the 'continuity hypothesis' and that disruption to or lack of an attachment bond during the sensitive period could have serious consequences for the mental health of a child later on.

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Adaptive behaviour in children which support Bowlb

Intense stranger fear, protects from predators usually strongest from 9-18 months when child is mobile and able to move away from care giver. Seeking proximity and separation anxiety can't be left behind especially before a child can walk. 

Social Releasers - support - Schaffer and Emerson 1964. Babies become sociable at around 6 weeks, by 7 months show separation anxiety and fear of strangers.

Monotropy- refute - Schaffer and Emerson 1964. By 18 months 87% of babies had multiple attachments, strongest bond not always with the mother. 

Continuity Hypothesis - internal working model - support - Hazan and Shave, 1987, Black and Schutte 2006. Refute - Zimmerman et al 2000, Main and Goldwyn 1984.

Bowlby's ideas were formulated in the 1950s when society was very different. Most mothers at this time stayed at home to raise children while the father went out to work. It's therefore, understandable why he believed the mother was the most important attachment figure in a child's life. 

However, modern research has shown that it's desirable for a child to have multiple attachments, each attachment figure providing another type of care or relationship for the child.

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Lamb and Schaffer

Lamb 1983 found that fathers are more likely to be chosen as playmates.

Schaffer 1996 showed that as well as vertical attachments with parents and other authority figures, a child's horizontal attachments, with siblings, are very important for its understanding of the world. Bowlby's emphasis on the mother led to these important attachments being ignored. Bowlby and his co workers have had a huge impact on the way in which we raise children and the provisions we make to care for them when we have to be apart. For parents to work or when a parent or child has to go to hospital.

A child needs a secure emotional bond with other human beings, after the influences of Bowlby's work, developmental psychologists started to ask what factors made attachment secure and what happened if a child developed an insecure attachment to its caregivers. 

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Strange Situation

Mary Ainsworth 1970 set up the strange situation laboratory observation in which she observed babies between one year and 18 months of age, interacting with their mother and a stranger. 

She also observed the babies to see how they behaved when left alone for a short period of time and how they greeted their mother when she returned. Ainsworth measured four main behaviours in the infants, general orientation to the mother, did the children use her as a secure base, stranger anxiety, separation anxiety, behaviour towards mother on reunion. Using this method Ainsworth was able to identify three attachment types in the infants she studied.

Type B Secure 70% of sample children generally oriented towards the mother. Using her as a secure base to explore the room and brought to use to show her. Became distressed when mother left, showed joy and was easily comforted when she returned, wary of stranger. 

Type A Insecure 15% of sample these children ignored mother and played happily with the toys alone. Showed some distress at her departure but didn't want comfort from her when she returned. Also rejected stranger when she tried to comfort them.

Type C Insecure Ambivalent 15% of sample, these children cling to mother. Showed extreme distress when mother left but when she returned, although they appeared to want her close, putting their arms out to be picked up, they seemed angry and rejected at her attempts to comfort them.

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Ainsworth's study was well controlled and therefore, easily replicated making it a reliable method for studying attachment behaviour.

Main and Cassidy 1988 were able to identify a fourth type, type D or 'disorganised'. Children of this type tended to come from abusive homes, they had little idea how to cope when their carer left the room and often became extremely distressed. They tended to comfort themselves by freezing or rocking backwards and forwards. Some have argues that the method lacks validity because the situation is so unlike anything the baby would have to go through in real life, although others claim it's not an unlikely situation a child faces when being left at nursery or with a babysitter. It'd be unreasonable to make generalisations about all infants based on this research. Ainsworth used middle class American babies which makes the findings culturally biased, they only tell us about middle class American children and therefore lack population validity. 

Other studies challenge the validity of the strange situation, claiming that infants behave differently depending on who they're with when they're tested. A child might be classed as securely attached to its mother but insecurely attached to its father. If this is the case, then the strange situation is only measuring particular relationships and some some central characteristic of the child. Ainsworth's work also raises ethical questions since the situation was stressful for the babies.The observers were asked to stop the study if babies became unduly stressed.

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Ainsworth went on to look for reasons for different types of attachment behaviour. She wondered whether a child's attachment behaviour is determined by the carer, the child or by something else. After many observations using the strange situation, she came up with the 'sensitivity hypothesis'. This states that sensitive mothers have securely attached infants. Ainsworth found that she could often match the mothers behaviour to the type of attachment shown by the infant. Securely attached infants tend to have mothers who understand their needs and are consistently good at meeting them whereas insecurely attached infants tend to have mothers who ignore them, avoid, or are both at times neglectful, and other times over fussy, ambivalent.

Mother and infant enter room, child explores toys.

Stranger enters and talks to mother.

Stranger attempts to interact with infant.

Mother leaves room, infant alone with stranger.

Mother returns, stranger leaves. Mother leavers, infant alone.

Stranger re enters attempts to comfort infant.

Mother returns and stranger leaves.

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De Wolff and Van Ijzendoorn 1997 found a correlation of 0.24 between sensitivity and secure attachment. This suggests there's a relationship albeit a very weak one.

Kagan 1982 some infants may form attachments more readily than others because they're naturally more friendly or easier to care for 'temperament hypothesis'.

Belsky and Rovine 1987 found that infants who showed signs of behavioural instability such as tremors or shaking, were less likely to become attached to their mothers than infants who didn't.

Fox 1991 found that there was a strong correlation between the attachment types of the child to both parents, if a child was securely attached to its mother i'd very likely have the same attachment with its father. This further suggests that attachment types are caused be some inherent characteristic of the infant. 

Evidence is presented here to support both the sensitivity and temperament hypothesis. It's likely, then that attachment type is determined by an interaction between the temperament of the baby and the sensitivity or even experience of the mother.

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Cultural Variation

Cultural Variations in attachment, most of the research into attachments was carried out in America. Most of the theories are based on this culture and it's assumed that types of attachment and how they arise are similar all over the world. Very narrow view of human behaviours. Try to redress that balance and to investigate whether their theories are universal, apply to everyone, they have conducted a number of studies in other European and non-European countries using Ainsworth's standard 'Strange situation'.

Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg 1988 conducted a meta analysis in which they analysed the results of 82 such studies. 

The researchers found that the differences between cultures were often related to the child rearing styles and the economy of the country studied.

Grossmann and Grossmann 1991 Germany is classed as an individualist culture. Parents bring their children up to be independent and stand on their own two feet. German  mothers would view what we would call 'securely attached' as weak, clingy behaviour.

Takashi 1990 Japanese culture is a collectivist one, therefore parents tend to have grandparents or other family members they can call on to share child care during the first few years of an infants life. Consequently, the Japanese infants have extreme fear of stranger and don't cope well with being left alone in the 'strange situation'. Classify their behaviour as type C or ambivalent. 

Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg found the differences within cultures were greater than the differences between them wrong to assume particular culture raises children in same way. This study used a large sample which makes the findings generalisable. However 27 of them were carried out in individualist cultures and only 5 in collectivist ones so the sample may not be representative. 

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Disruption of attachment

Disruption of attachment can come from parents divorce or separate temporarily from their children for work. Privation which is where a child has never had the opportunity to form an attachment. Institutionalisation on children in orphanages or children's home.

John Bowlby 1953 proposed his 'maternal deprivation hypothesis'. This hypothesis stated that a child should form a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother or permanent mother substitute. He believed that, disruption to that relationship could put the child at risk from future mental health problems and make it difficult for him to form proper adult relationships. This hypothesis was the precursor to Bowlby's later attachment theory and has 3 main elements which state that the relationship must be : continuous- no separation for first 5 years. Made before the critical period of the two and a half years sensitive period should be with one main carer.

Bowlby based his ideas on research carried out in the late 1940s which looked at the effects on children of separation from their caregiver during the first 5 years of life. Bowlby termed this maternal deprivation.

Bowlby 1944 looked at the cases of 44 juveniles who had been referred to his child guidance clinic for stealing. Of the 44 cases 40% had been separated from their mothers for 6 months or more before they were 5 years old. Bowlby diagnosed these juveniles as suffering from a condition he termed 'affectionless psychopathy'. The symptoms were shared included showing no remorse for their crimes and no concern for their victims or themselves. This led Bowlby to conclude that maternal deprivation was a factor contributing to delinquencies for children.

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Rene Spitz and Katherine Wolf

Rene Spitz and Katherine Wolf 1946 looked at 123 babies during their first year of life by their unmarried mothers in an American prison. After about 9 months, babies were taken away from their mothers to be cared for in the prison nursery.

While the mothers were away, the babies conditions returned to what they had been before the separation. Critics have argues that these studies are extreme examples of separation possible coupled with poor parenting and therefore, don't tell us much about children in ordinary families who experience perhaps one or two weeks of separation from loving and supportive parents.

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James and Joyce Robertson

James and Joyce Robertson 1948 looked into such short periods of separation in the 1940s children in hospital or other forms of child care had the physical needs met but it was deemed unnecessary to do anything about their emotional needs. In order to convince the medical profession that children suffered emotionally, the Robertsons went into hospitals and nurseries armed with a cine camera and began to observe the children. 

One of these children was John, a 17 month old who was played in a residential nursery during the birth of his mother's second child. The film demonstrated how Johns condition deteriorated as the separation continued. What they observed had become known as the protest despair detachment or PDD model.

For the first few days John protested, as best as he could and tried to obtain attention. When this failed he showed distress. He tried to make attachments with the nurses but the system of working meant that a different person would look after him at different times of the days, making it very difficult to bond with a particular individual. After a few days, John's condition passed from distress to despair, he cried constantly refused food. He had difficulty sleeping, his condition changed again when he gave up trying to attract attention and became less and less interested in either the nurses or his father when he came to visit.

When his mother finally came to collect him, he ignored her, and wouldn't allow her to comfort him, detachment. The PDD model clearly outlines the short term effects of separation. James and Joyce Robertson noted that such effects could persist over months of even years following the separation. When John returned home he cared about his mother going out and wanted to know when she'd return, he wouldn't sleep without a light on. Separation anxiety of the type John experiences is a longer term effect of earlier separation and may persist long after the separation is over. It's marked by extreme clinginess, detachment and being more demanding. 

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Effects of Separation

Richards 1995 other long term effects include lower levels of academic achievement and self esteem, a higher incidence of conduct disorder and other problems of psychological adjustment, earlier social maturity, a higher frequency of depression and more distant relationships in adulthood with parents and other relatives. 

Rutter 1981 believes that Bowlby's view that the effects of separation are due solely to the disruption of a continuous bond with the caregiver is oversimplified and that it's necessary to look at other factors such as the strength of attachment before the child is separated, the child's home circumstances and the reason for the separation. Rutter also believed that Bowlby failed to distinguish between what he referred to as maternal deprivation and privation.

Privation is where a child has made no bond at all with his caregiver, neglect. 

This has much more serious consequences for the child's later emotional, social and cognitive development. 

Certainly ,not all children are affected in the same way by separation. More recent research shows a range of factors which affect a child's ability to cope with separation.

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Susan Curtiss 1977 studied the case of Genie, a young girl who suffered from extreme privation. Genie was thought to be mentally retarded at birth and was locked away in an upstairs room by her parents. She spent every day alone and had little opportunity to make an attachment. She had no toys to play with and nothing to look at. By day she was tied to a potty chair and by night, she was tied to a sleeping bag.Genie was found at the the age of 13, She was malnourished and had suffered delays in her physical development. She couldn't chew solid food and wasn't potty trained, couldn't related to others, had a low IQ.

Koluchova 1972 twin boys who'd suffered privation. The difference between them and Genie was that they weren't isolated until they were about 18 months old, had each other to form a bond with and were found earlier. Both the boys and Genie suffered with attachment experiences that were far from normal and both should have suffered severe consequences in later life. However, there were marked differences in the recovery rates of the children in the two cases.

Genie learn't some language although her grammar was always below normal. She could make attachment bonds and her IQ improved but never reached normal levels. Although researchers in her case found it difficult to establish whether her lack of development was due to the privation or mental retardation possible present at birth. The twin boys went on to make successful attachment bonds improved in their intellectual development and went on to lead reasonably normal lives. 

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Ethics - often intrusive, follow children for many years, concerns over informed consent, children too damaged to give it, researched must be careful not to exploit the children for their own ends. 

Methodological - valuable information, rich, detailed, hard to tell if effects are due to solely to privation or other factors such as lack of stimulating environment abuse of neglect, retrospective often best guess as the child's past, may not be accurate.

Tizard and Hodges 1984 and 1989 institutional study, followed children living in a children home until they were adopted age 4. Used a large sample of 65 english working class children and the researchers had detailed records of the children's early lives so they didn't have to rely on retrospective data. The home provided the children with a good standard of physical care and mental stimulation. The only thing it didn't provide was emotional care. Therefore the researchers had the chance to study the effects of emotional privation without the influence of other factors.

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Early Care

Early care in an institution doesn't have the drastically damaging effects predicted by Bowlby. The high quality care and stimulation in the English nursery ensured that cognitive development was normal even though there had been no chance to make an attachment. 

Attachments to the adoptive parents were made after the age of 2 and a half. Bowlby's proposed critical period for attachment formation. There are some lasting effects of privation which continue until at least 16 and probably longer but these effects aren't inevitable and seem to depend on individual differences. Such effects can be seen as differences in children, not due to privation.

Ethical - sensitive issue, researchers must not put pressure on families and children studied, must be impaired and non-judgemental.

Methadological - good range of research methods including interviews, questionnaires, self report, attrition drop out in longitudinal studies now meaningful final sample not representative of original group, natural experiment no control over which children were adopted therefore, couldn't be bias.

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Tizard and Hodges uncovered an unusual pattern of attachment, disinhibited attachment, found in institutionalised children. They found that these children showed no stranger fear and would run to anyone who entered the room. Seek attention.

Ruter et al 2007 currently following the progress of Romanian orphans adopted by English families. Most recent observation at age 11 has shown that over half the children still show disinhibited attachment and that many of these children are receiving special help from education or mental health services. The orphanages in Romania were very poorly equipped and children often had only their basic physical needs met. The rest of the time, they were often left in cots with no toys or other physical stimulation. Difficult to assess whether these effects are due to privation or the poor environmental conditions in which the children spent their early lives.

Age of child at time of separation:

Shaffer and Callender 1959 children in hospital under 7 months minimal upset, most severe reaction at 18 months. Related to ability to understand that caregiver will return.

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