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Attachment - 

This is an emotional bond between two people, it is a two way process that endures over time. It can lead to certain behaviours that serves the function of protecting an infant.

There are two explainations to attachment:

  • The learning theory - classical conditioning
  • The evolution theory - biological
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The Learning Theory

  • The learning theory states that infants learn to form an attachment with their mothers.
  • Through the process of classical conditioning (learning through association) the baby forms an association between the mother (neutral stimulus) and the feeling of pleasure they get from being fed (innate unconditioned response). Before long the mother is seen as the reasons for the happiness as she is always there and an attachment is formed.
  • Operant conditioning is learning by consequences. The association is made between an action and a reward or reinforcer. E.g. if they cry they will get food. (BF Skinner demonstrated this with rats, placed them in a box, pulled lever food would come. Rats knew when hungry to then go to the lever as it rewards it).
  • Miller et al combine both classical and operant conditioning and called it cupboard love. 
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The Learning Theory - Evaluation

  • A limitation is Harlow's study into orphaned monkeys. In his experiment he separated infants from their mother and raised them in isolation. He created two mothers, one had a bottle attached to it and the other was covered in soft cloth. The orphaned monkey spent most if its time on the cloth covered monkey therefore going against the theorys idea of forming an attachment with their mother over food.
  • Shaffer et al found that 4 in 10 children formed their attachment with someone who did not feec them but played with them. This goes against the learning theory suggesting that it cannot be the only explaination of attachment.

  • This theory provides a foundation for the explainations of attachment, We do learn through association and reinforcement however food may not be the main reinforcer as the theory suggests. It gives other psychologists a basis to work from meaning we gain more knowledge on attachment. 
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Bolwby's Evolutionary Theory

  • Evolution is the traits that increase the chances of survival.
  • Bolwby suggests that attachment forms as it has survival value (in the wild infants are more likely to survive if they stay with their mother).
  • Bolwby used studies such as Lorenz:

He carried out an experiment with geese an set 2 conditions.

1st : he was the first moving objects that the baby geese saw when they hatched.

2nd: the mother goose was the first moving object they saw.

He found that in the 1st condition the geese followed him as if he was the mother and performed mating rituals to him and ignored other geese whereas condition 2 the geese followed the mother and peformed mating rituals to geese in adult life. He also found they seemed to have a critical period of which to imprint.

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Bolwby's Evolutionary Theory

  • The first attachment is nearly always the mother (monotrophy).
  • If the child doesn't form an attachment before the age of 3 years (critical period) it can disrupt attachment permanently.
  • If an attachment is formed it provides the infant with a template (internal working model) for future relationships.

The maternal deprivation hypothesis stated that if a child does not form an attachment within the critical period or if attachment is disrupted then there can be long term affects of their development in later life.

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Bolwby's Evolutionary Theory - Evaluation

  • Hazan et al supports the idea of attachment as an infant has an effect long term. They found that attachment type in childhood predicts the nature of their relatiobships in adult life supporting Bolwbys internal working model.
  • Harlow's study into monkeys supports Bowlby's idea of behaviour being innate. The monkey formed an attachment with the comfort monkey instead of the food suggesting attachment is innate and not learnt however the experiment was carried out on animals therefore cannot be generalised.

  • Tizard et al went against Bolwby's idea of the critical period when they found that children adopted at the age of 4 were able to form an attachment with their new parents even having missed the critical period. 
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Measuring Attachment - Strange Situations

Ainsworth (1970) set out to produce a method for assessing the quality of attachment.

  • They took 100 middle class American infants and their mothers
  • They placed an infant in different situations to invoke comfort seeking and exploration behaviour.
  • What they were looking for were:
    Separation anxiety - unease when left by caregiver
    Secure base anxiety - willingness to explore
    Stranger anxiety - the response to the presence of a stranger
    Reunion behaviour - way caregiver is greeted
  • The method used was (each step for 3 minutes):
    The parent and infant play
    Parent sits while infant plays
    Stranger enters and talks to parent
    Parent leaves and stranger offers comfoty if needed
    Parent returns, offers comfort if needed and stranger leaves
    Parent leaves and infant left alone
    Stranger enters
    Parent returns and greets infant 
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Strange Situations

Ainsworth concluded there were 3 main types of infant attachment:

  • SECURE (type b 70%) I trust you - 
    They explored the room and greeted the mother positively when she returned. Showed slight avoidance to strangers but friendly when mother was there. In the future the child will find it easy to love and trust.
  • AVOIDANT SECURE (type a 20%) I don't trust you -
    Did not explore around the mother and didn't seem concerned when she was not there or showed an interest when she returned. Avoided the stranger but not as much as the mother when she returned. In the future the child will doubt love exists and fear commitment.

  • RESISTANT INSECURE (type c 10%) I don't care -
    Showed intense distress when the mother left but rejected her when she came back. Ambivilant behaviour towards the stranger. In the future the child will be jealous and possesive adults who fear of being abandoned.
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Strange Situations - Evaluation

  • This experiment is a controlled observation, a limitation of this is that particpants are aware that they are being watched. This means that parents may have treated their children differently to they way they would in their natural environment meaning results can be affected and reducing mundane realism.
  • Lacks population validity due to the limited sample size of middle class Americans. This means results are not representative therefore cannot be generalised.

  • A strength to this experiment is that it is easy to replicate, many psychologists have carried out the same experiment and have found the same results therefore meaning Ainsworth's findings are reliable.

Ainsworth said that the different types of attachment are down to the sensitivity of the mother.

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Cultural Variation In Attachment

Kroonenberg et al (1988):

  • They conducted a meta-analysis of 32 cross cutural studies where the strange situations experiment was carried out.
  • They found that secure attachment was high throughout cultures and the strongest attachments were formed with the mother even if the cultures where child rearing is communal.

A limitation to this study is that the procedure used was developed in America, this means it may only be suitable for that culture. This means that results are affected by participant variables as everyone could react differently to the procedure.

A strength to this study is that a large sample size was used, however out of the 32 studies used, majority were from Westernised cultures, therefore the sample is biased and may not be representative.

Throughout all of the experiments, infants were at risk of facing stress which breaches the ethical guidelines of protection from harm. This meant some procedures had to be stopped meaning some results were left incomplete reducing the validity of the results.

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Disruption of Attachment

Deprivation - This is where an attachment has been formed however it has then been lost either short term or long term (day care or death of parents)

Privationv-This is where an infant never formed an attachment. 

Effects of short term deprivation:

  • Protest - Crying and screaming due to deprivation
  • Despair - Calmer, comfort themselves e.g. thumb sucking
  • Detachment - Child responds to people again however treats people warily.

Examples: Little John (Robertson) was put into the hospital creche for over a week when his mum was in hospital, his father visited him everyday and he was ignored by the nurses. There was a change in his behaviour.

Long term affects of seperation:

After seperation has ended some children may continue to show effects. They may become more clingy and show increased seperation anxiety.

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Failure to Form Attachment

This is also known as privation. Children do not form an attachment and this can be due to neglect. The research into privation are case studies because it would be unethical for researchers to cause a child to not form an attachment as it can have negative impacts on them in the future.

  • Genie Curtis (1976):
  • Locked in her room by her father until the age of 13 because he thought she was retarded.
  • She couldn't walk, talk or stand and she never fully recovered.
  • This was because of her late discovery (after critical period of attachment)
  • She was strapped to a high chair with a potty built in, growing up wasn''t allowed to play with toys or children and was punished if she made a noise.
  • She formed an attachment with Curtis and gained some social skills however when put into foster care she lost this.
  • Supports Bowlby's theory.

  • Koluchova, Identical Czech twins:
  • Locked up for the first 7 years of their life by their stepmother, mother died when they were infants.
  • When first discovered they couldn't talk but had near normal speech by the age of 14 and by the age of 20 had above average intelligence and a good relationship with their foster parents. 
  • Doesn't support Bolwby's theory.
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Privation - Evaluation

Using case studies means the sample size is very small, therefore we cannot generalise the results to a wider population because individual differences can play a part and effect results. (E.G. Genie may have been born with learning difficulties)

Lacks reliability as it wouldn  be unethical to replicate these studies. This means that these results cannot be trusted as no one has carried out the same procedure and got the same results.

The information gathered for each case study is retrospective data, this means that they have relied on what happened to the children by others giving information. There is a possibility they could have lied meaning results from the study may not be valid therefore cannot be used as an explaination of attachment.

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Effects of Institutionalisation

Hodges and Tizard 1989:

  • They set out to investigate what effect environment has on attachments.
  • They followed a group of 65 British children who were placed in a home when they were less than 4 months old.
  • They had recieved good physical care and a fair amount of attention but couldn't form a strong attachment due to large staff turn over and institutional policy.
  • Children, parents, care workers and teachers were all interviewed or given a questionnaire.
  • They were assessed at regular intervals up to the age of 16, some were still there however some had been adopted or returned to their families.

They concluded most children formed close attachments with their adoptive family but had difficulty with peer relations. 

Less than half the children who were returned to their biological parents had close attachment to their parents and also had difficulties with peer relations.

This supports Bowlby's critical period.

They concluded that if the environment is poor quality their future is bleaker with forming attachments.

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Effects of Institutionalisation - Evaluation

Their research was a natural experiment, this means it has high ecological validity as they were measuring real life behaviour, therefore it can be used as a legitimate explaination of instituational care and attachment.

A limitation to the study is the sample size,  they only used 65 children and they were all from England, this means that their findings cannot be generalised.

Their findings are supported by Rutter et al who did a study on 111 Romanian children adopted by British familes before the age of 2. It supports Tizard and Hodges conclusion that children can recovery if they recieve good quality care.

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Day Care

Day care is a temporary care provided by a non family member and usually takes place outside the home.

Social development refers to the tendency to seek and enjoy the company of others and to make personal relationships with them.

Arguements for day care:

  • Good quality day care provides interactions with children (positive social development)
  • Mothering can improve as it reduces their stress.
  • Provides a stimulating environment, some activities that may not be available at home.

Aguements against:

  • Seperation from primary care giver, lead to ST and LT damage of social development
  • Home could provide more loving and stimulating environment.
  • Can have negative effects on social development.
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Research Into Impacts Of Day Care

Negative impacts of day care include aggression, peer relations and social development.


Observed children of on average 4 years old who attended day care different amounts of time a week. He found aggressive behaviour decreased in the 10 week period of observation.


Studied 1000 children from diverse families and areas, interviewed parents at regular intervals and found by the age of 5 children who spent more time in day care were more aggressive.


Found the more time you spend in day care positively correlated with the number of friends a child had once they went to school. A positive affect on their capability to form peer relations.

Belsky et al:

Used strange situations on infants who recieved more than 20 hours of day care a week before the age of one and found they were more likely to be insecurely attached. Less successful at forming peer relationships.

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Quality Of Day Care

Small staff to child turn over so children can form attachments. NICH found low ratios of 1:3 provides high quality of care.

Improving the quality of day care means that attachment needs to be taken into consideration, need to understand the child's emotions and needs.

Qualified and experienced staff has been proven to positively correlate with high quality day care. This can in turn improve their social development. Slyva et al

There has been research into the amount of time mothers should nurse children before they are given up for adoption. By the time a child may be adopted their critical period may have passed making it more difficult for them to form a secure attachment. Babies now adopted within 2 weeks.

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