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  • Created on: 31-12-12 17:48

Learning Theory

Babies are born as blank states and all behaviour is learned. Learning occurs through the process of either classical or operant conditioning. 

Classical conditioning: paired a bell (a neutral stimulus) with food (an unconditional stimulus) to produce salvation (an unconditioned response).

After numerous parings the bell would elicit salvation by itself - and so the bell became the conditional stimulus. 

(In the case of attachement the mother (initially a neutral stimulus) becomes a conditional stimulus through her assiciation with food. Every time the baby is fed the mother is there and so the pleasure of being fed is associated  with the mother and this is the basis of attachement. 

Operant conditioning: based on the idea of reward (reinforcement) and punishment. 

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Pavlov's dogs (supporting classical conditioning)

Pavlov demonstrated how classical conditioning works with his experiment with dogs. He paired a bell (a neutral stimulus) with food (an unconditioned stimulus) to produce salvation (an unconditioned response). After numerous pairing the bell would elicit salvation by itself- and so the bell became the conditioned stimulus. 

In the case of attachment the mother (initially a neutral stimulus) becomes a conditioned stimulus through her association with food. Every time the baby is fed the mother is there and so the pleasure of being fed is associated with the mother and this is the basis of attachment. 

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Skinner's box (Supporting operant conditioning)

The Skinner box, which he designed, contained a lever for an animal such as a rat or a pigeon to press for food to be delivered. It also had a speaker and lights that could be used to trigger a behaviour, and a shock generator was connected to the floor to deliver an electric shock in response to a behaviour.

Positive reinforcement is giving something pleasurable to the animal following a desired behaviour, to make sure the behaviour is repeated, for example giving a rat food for pressing a lever, the consequence of lever pressing is desirable, so is repeated to gain more food.

Negative reinforcement is removing something nasty or uncomfortable in response to the desired behaviour. This also results in the behaviour being repeated, in order to escape the nasty stimulus. An example would be to give the rat an electric shock until a lever is pressed. The lever pressing stops the shock so the rat presses the lever again to ensure it avoids it in the future.

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Skinner's box conclusion

Skinner showed how rats can learn to press levers if that behaviour either came with a reward (food) or removal of pain (negative reinforcement). In the case of attachment please at being fed is the reward and because the mother feeds the child she becomes a reinforcer. Attachment results as the baby behaves in way that will bring the mother near (e.g. crying) 


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little Albert (Watson)

This was a laboratory experiment, involving only one participant: Albert B, an 11 month old boy, living in the same hospital where Watson worked.

Albert was presented with a white ratwhich at first provoked no fear in him when he saw it.

Once establishing a connection with the stimulus, the experimentors attempted to condition him to feel afraid of it. On being presented with the white rat, Watson and Rayner made loud, crashing noises behind him using a hammer against a steel object, which obviously immediately distressed Albert.

These such procedures were repeated over a three month period to ensure total conditioning.

  • (1) The rat = Neutral Stimulus
  • (b) The loud noises = Unconditioned Stimulus
  • (c) Distress of loud noises = Unconditioned Response
  • (2) Albert shows fear... = Conditioned Response
  • (3) ...Of rat alone = Conditioned Stimulus
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Harlow's monkeys(support Bowlby's & goes agains le

Separated monkeys at birth from their real mothers (Deprived of their real mother until they were 8months old) and gave them wire substitutes. He found that the monkeys much preferred the comfort of a warm, furry monkey than one who provided food. This research suggests that food was not the most important aspect of attachment. 

The experiments described lack generalisability to humans because the were carried out with animals. 

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Shaffer and Amerson (supports+opposes Bowlbey's &

·    They conducted a study in which 60 babies from working class backgrounds were observed in their natural environments. They found that infants had many attachments to mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings and friends. However they maintained one primary object of attachment based on the quality of the care-giving.

·   Therefore this suggests that there is a monotropy of one single care-giver whom they share a special bond with (the primary attachment figure).

This goes against the learning theory that attachment results from the mother feeding the child, as they found that the person who normally fed the child was not always the primary care giver. 

Opposes Bowlbys, as also showed that some babies have multiple attachments or their father as their main attachement figuire)

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Bowlby's Evolutionary theory

Bowlby states that infants maintain close proximity to their caregiver in order to improve their chances of survival in an evolutionary context. Through the use of 'socal releasers' they are able to ensure that the caregiver becomes attached to them.

The critical period that Bowbly mentions is between 0 and 3 years, in which they must attach to a primary caregiver/ one person (monotropy).

If this attachment does not form, there are serious adverse affects to the infants soial development and ability to form future relationships.

Separation protest is an adaptive response and this has been developed to help the hild to be protected and increase their chances of survival.

Bowlby also believed that the first attachment provides an internal working model that influences the childs future relationships. (the continuity hypothesis)

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Lorenz (imprinting) (Supporting Bowlby's )

Demonstrated that animals aren't born with a ready made image of their parents. 

Lorenz took a clutch of gosling eggs and divided them into two groups, One was left with their natural mother, while the other eggs were place in an incubator. When the incubator eggs hatched, the first living thing they saw was Lorenz and they soon started following him around. To test this effect of imprinting Lorenz marked the two groups to distinguish them and place them together. The goslings quickly divided themselves up, one following their natural mother and Lorenz' brood following him.

This suggests that a young animal imprints on the first object it sees.

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Hazan & Shaver 1987 (support for inner working mod

Hazan and Shaver (1987) used Bowlby and Ainsworth's ideas about how relationships in childhood effect those is adulthood. They used a "love quiz" in a local newspaper. They have 620 volunteers, of men and women, aged 14 - 82 (with a mean age of 36). The quiz asked about romantic relationships they had and the relationship with their parents.


They found that the percentage in the 3 styles of attachment were very close to those of infants. 

Secure - 66% 56% Insecure avoidant - 22% 24% Insecure resistant - 12% 20%

It was also found that the attachment style people had as children continued onto adulthood and the adult relationships reflected the attachment type (e.g. securely attached children had long lasting relationships as adults and believed in love). Insecure avoidant didn't believe in love and feared closeness, insecure resistant felt intense emotions like jealousy and untrusted people. 

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Hodges & Tizard 1989 (affects of institutionalisat

The Aim.
They wanted to investigate the effects of institutionalisation on social development. They also wanted to look at how they learned to interact with and form relationships with people. They wanted to look at privation meaning having had no attachment.

The Procedure.

It was a natural experiment using 65 children,where most of them being institutionalised by the age of 4 months old.

The carer's wern't able to care for one child individually because they didn't want the child to form an attachment to the carer.

But by 4 years old, the children had fallen into three different conditions...

7 Stayed in an institution for more than 4 years. 25 were restored to their original family by the age of 4 years. 33 children were adopted by someone else.

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Hodges & Tizard (continue..)

There was also a control group that had never been institutionalised. This shows the difference and effects of the other groups.

The children were measured at ages 2 , 4 , 8 , 16 years old.

The measures used included...

  • Observations.
  • Interviews, With the teacher and parent.
  • self reportmeasures i.e. interviews and questionnaires.

The Finding's

Short Term Effects.

At 2 and 4 years old the children who had been institutionalised had shown Disihibited attachment.

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Robertson & Robertson (support Bowlby's)

Robertson et al studied 'John' who was a 17 month old baby, who was placed in residential care whilst his mother went to undergo treatment in hospital. Over the course of just 9 days John went from being a well adjusted pleasant child, to a child distressed by the experience to the point where upon reunion with his mother, he rejected her.

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Rutter et al (opposes Bowlby's)

All ps entered the orphanage as small babies between 1-2 weeks old. Conditions in orphanage were poor - children malnourished. 58 babies adopted from Romania orphanages before they were 6 months old (early adoptees) 59 babies adopted from Romania orphanages between the age of 6 months and 24 months (late adoptees)

Children assessed at ages 4, 6, 11. Assessment of behaviour after adoption included semi-structured interviews with the adoptive family and observations of the adopted infant's behaviour.

Dis-inhibited attachment in Romania adoptees age 6: attention seeking behaviour with a lack of selectivity in social relationships. Lack of fear of strangers and making inappropriate physical contact with adults.

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Rutter et al continue

Showed that dis-inhibited attachment was more common in the late adoptee group than early adoptee group. Some of the children were followed up at age 11: of the children who showed mild or marked dis-inhibited attachment at 6, 54% still showed this at follow up at 11.

Findings at age 6 suggest that children who spent longer time in institutions are more likely to develop disinhibited attachements.

Findings at age 11 suggest that disinhibited attachments are persistent and may be difficult to overcome. However, possibly with a caring environment may be able to change.

Opposes Bowlby's becaosue showed the effects of early privation can be reversible.  

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Ainsworth's attachement style theory.

Ainsworth proposed: 'maternal sensitivity hypothesis' which suggests how well the child is attached depends on the mother's ability to respond to the baby's non verbal signals
Ainsworth also believed attachments stayed constant throughout a child's life and would affect their future relationships.

1) Child and carer placed in an empty room. The child is free to explore 2) a stranger then enters the room and talks briefly to the mother 3) stranger attempts to play and talk with the child 4) Mother leaves the room and baby is left alone with the stranger. Stranger tries to comfort them. 5) The mother returns to the room and the stranger leaves 6)the mother leaves the room and the child is left alone 7) the stranger returns to the room and tries to comfort the child 8) mother re-enters the room and the stranger leaves

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Strange sotuation conclusion

This procedure allowed Ainsworth to look at: stranger anxiety, seperation anxiety and reunion behaviour. This led Ainsworth to develop 3 types of attachment:

Type A: Avoident children do not seek proximity and display no secure base behaviour to their caregiver. Show no distress when she leaves or make contact when she returns. 22% of infants in study

Type B: Secure : children play independently but seek proximity and show secure base behaviour. Moderate seperation distress and stranger anxiety. Require comfort on reunion with caregiver. 66% of infants in study

Type C: Resistant : explore less and intenesley seek proximity. Very distressed when left alone and with a stranger but resist comfort when reunited with caregiver. 12% of infants in study Conclusions:

  • Attachment depends on the sensitivity of the mother (maternal sensitivity hypothesis)
  • Sensitive mothers generally had infants who were securely attached
  • Less sensitive mothers had infants who were more likely to be insecurley attached
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Ainsworth's study in Uganda

Observed babies in Uganda aged 15 weeks to 2 years over a 9 month period. She also interviewed their 26 mothers about how sensitive they are towards their children , sensitive mothers tended to provide more details about their infants and these mothers tended to have securely attached children.  

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Van ljzendroom and Kroonenberg

meta analysis does have some sample and cultural bias. 

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Van ljzendroom and Kroonenberg (supports ainsworth

carried out a meta analysis of 32 studies of the strange situation in 8 countries.

  • the amount of attachment types were mostly consistent in each country as all have the highest % of attachments as type b and most have the lowest % as type c. However countries like Japna and Israel have a higher % of type c attachments than type a attachments
  • In germany more children are type a because of the way their parents bring them up. They encorage independence so they withdrw loving attention and often ignore crys, making the child shy in later life.
  • In Israel, they are more type c children, this is because lots of children are brought up on a communal farm and all looked after by non-family members called watchwomen. This causes a child to become attention seeking. conclusion:
  • there are different types of attachment based on how children are brought up in that culture.
  • Type b attachment is likely to be genetic as it is the most common attachment type in all countries studied.
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Aim: to consider whether it is appropriate to use the strange situation procedure with Japanese children. The key question whether the strange situation is a valid procedure for other cultures other than the original middle class americans, home reared and white.


  • 60 middle class japanese infants, aged 1 year, boys and girls and their mothers. All raised at home
  • same situation as original strange situation
  • 68% were classified as securely attached
  • there were no infants classified as avoidant- insecure
  • 32% were classified as resistant-insecure
  • the japanese infants were much more disturbed after being left alone. in fact the 'infant alone' step was stopped 90% of the time because infants became so distressed. 
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Takahashi results

the findings suggest that there are cross cultural variations in the way infants resppond to seperation and being left alone. this difference may be due to the fact that japanese infants experience much less separation for example, they generally sleep with their parents til over 2 years of age, are carried around on their mothers backs and bathe with their parents. Japanese infants are almost never left alone. this means that the strange situation could be more than mildly streesful for japanese infants. this also means that behaviours observed were rections to extreme stress, which was not the original aim of the strange situation
the findings also highlight a second cross cultural variation. a toal lack of avoidant behaviour in this sample. children are taught that such beahaviour is impolite and they would be actively discouraged from such behaviour
the final conclusion must be that the strange situation does not have the same meaning for the japanese as it does for the american participants, therefore it isnt valid.

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