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Classical conditioning: learning associations between different things in our environment. getting food naturally gives a baby pleasure. Babys desire for food is fulfilled whenever its mother is around to feed it. so an association is formed between mother and food. so, whenever the mother is around, the baby will feel pleasure- i.e. attachment

operant conditioning Dollard and Miller: claimed babies feel discomfort when they are hungry and so have a desire to get food to remove this discomfort. they find that if they cry, their mother will come and feed them, so the discomfort is removed (negative reinforcement). the mother is therefore associated with food and the baby will want to be close to her. this produces attachment behaviour.

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Harlows monkey experiment

Method: harlow aimed to find out wheter baby monkeys would prefer a source of food or a source of comfort and protection as an attachment figure. in a lab experiment rhesus monkeys were raised on their own. they had two surrogate mothers. one was made of wire and had a feeding bottle but the other was made of cloth but didnt contain a feeding bottle.

Results: the monkeys spent most of their time with the cloth monkey only using the wire monkey to feed. the cloth monkey seemed to give them comfort in the new situation. when the monkeys grew up they showed signs of social and emotional disturbance. the females were often bad mothers who where violent to their offspring.

Conclusion: infant monkeys formed more of an attachment with a figure that provided comfort. growing up in isolation affected their development

Evaluation: this was a lab experiment so there was high control of the variables.. however it can be said that you cannot generalise findings to humans. There are also ethical problems with this study, the monkeys were put in a stressful situation and later showed signs of psychological damage. it also lacked ecological validity as the monkeys were not in their natural environment. lab experiments can usually be replicate dbut ethical guidelines now in place mean that you could not repeat this study today to check findings.

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Ethological approach

Ethology is the study of animals and their environment

  • Konrad Lorenz found that Geese automatically attach to the first moving thing they see after hatching, and follow it everywhere. this is called impriniting.
  • normally the geese would imprint on their mother but Lorenz managed to get them to attach to him as they were the first thing they saw
  • imprinitng seems to occur during a 'critical period' in this case the first few hours after hatching. its a fast automatic process.
  • however its unlikely to occur in humans. our attachments take a longer time to develop and we dont automatically attach to particular things- quality care seems more important in human attachment formation.
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John bowlby's evolutionary theory

1, we have evolved a biological need to attach to our main caregiver, usually our biological mother. having one special attachment is called Monotropy. forming this attachment has survival value as staying close to the mother ensures food and protection.

2, a strong attachment provides a 'safe base', giving us confidence to explore our environment.

3, it also gives us a 'template' for all future relationships- we learn to trust and care for others.

4, the first 3 years of life are the critical period for this attachment to develop- otherwise it may never do so.

5, if the attachment does not develop, or if it is broken, it might seriously damage the childs social and emotional development.

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Comments on Bowlby's theory

1, there is some evidence for his claims. Harlows study supports the idea that we have evolved a need to attach. it also suggests that social and emotional development might be damaged if an attachment is formed.

2, schaffer and Emerson provided evidence against Bowlby's claims about monotropy. they found that many children form multiple attachments and may not attach to their mother.

3, Harlows study on the monkeys also goes against the idea of monotropy. other monkeys who didnt have a mother, but who grew up together, didnt show signs of social and emotional disturbance in later life. they didnt have a primary caregiver, but seemed to attach to each other instead. 

4, there is mixed evidence for claims of a critical period for attachments to develop

5, the effect of attachment not developing, or being broken, may not be as bad as bowlby claimed

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