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  • Created by: Genevieve
  • Created on: 19-12-10 11:59



Define what is meant by attachment: 

A strong emotional bond that develops over time, someone depends on another person to take care of their needs, (emotionally and physically) they show distressed on separation, and pleasure when reunited and show the need to maintain proximity with that person.

 What are Maccoby’s four characteristics of attachment?

1) seeking proximity

2) distress on separation

3)pleasure when reunited

4) general orientation of behaviour towards the primary care giver. 

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Schaffer & Emerson Longitudinal Attachment Study

They looked for 2 behaviours that indicated an attachment:


Separation distress/protest -which is first seen around 6-8 months old

Stranger anxiety - which is first seen around 9 months old.

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Learning Theory


Based on the idea that changes in behaviour result more from experience and less from our personality or how we think or feel about a situation.


The principles of classical conditioning:

Define each term:

Unconditioned stimulus (UCS)


Unconditioned response (UCR)


Neutral stimulus (NS)


Conditioned stimulus (CS)


Conditioned response (CR)

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 How is attachment explained in terms of classical conditioning?

1. A baby is born with reflex responses

2. Stimulus of food produces a response of pleasure

3. The mother/care giver becomes associated with pleasure and becomes the unconditioned stimulus

4.The mother/care giver then becomes an association of pleasure irrespective of whether or not food is supplied. 

5. Accoring to the learning theory this is where the basis of the attachment bond between mother/care giver and the baby. 

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The principles of operant conditioning:  Define the terms below:

 Positive Reinforcement - something positive provided by a care giver, the infant's response increases the probability of that response occurring in the future.

Negative Reinforcement -something negative occurring from the actions of the caregiver and therefore creating an unpleasant response from the infant. (crying etc.)

Punishment - the adding of a negative stimulus in order to decrease a response.

 Primary Reinforcer - being fed satisfies the infants hunger and make it's feel comfortable again. This results in a drive reduction which is rewarding and the infant learns that food is primary reinforcer.

Secondary Reinforcer - The person who supplies the food is associated with food and therefore pleasure, this person becomes the secondary reinforcer -the infant will seek to be with the this person because they are now the source of food/reward. This forms an attachment. 

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How is attachment explained in terms of operant conditioning

Dollard and Miller suggested - an infant feels uncomfortable, they experience a drive state, this motivates the infant to lessen the discomfort of being hungry etc. When the baby is fed it satisfies it's hunger and the food bcomes the primary reinforcer. The person who supplies the food becomes associated with lessening the discomfort and becomes the secondary reinforcer. This forms the basis of an attachment.

Evaluation of learning theory as an explanation of attachment

On the positive side, the learning theory of attachment seems a plausible explanation of both how babies become attached to their caregivers and how caregivers bond with their children. It makes sense that babies will come to like those who feed them because they derive pleasure from feeding. Nevertheless, there is evidence that children develop attachments with people who do not feed them and that feeding is less important in the development of attachments than other behaviours.

Schaffer and Emerson (contradictory research)

In their study fewer than half of the infants had primary attachment to the person who cared for them (feeding and comforting ect.)

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Harlow and Harlow’s study on rhesus monkeys (contradictory research)

Harlow's research shows that attachment is not not soley responsibly for the giving of food to an infant.


  • the infant monkeys were placed in a cage 
  • in the cage there were 2 mesh cylinders (each with a face similar to a monkey's) 
  • 1 of the cylinders was bare and provided milk (food) -LACTATING MOTHER
  • the other cylinder had towelling (comfort) and didn't provide milk.
  • as a result the infant monkey spent the majority of it's time with the towelled cylinder
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Simply supplying food isn't suffice for the formation of attachment between care giver and infant.

We can see that comfort is preferable to food but isn't suffice for what?

Healthy development. 

Other studies have found that infant-infant bonds can be just as effective as mother-infant bonds.

Harlow's monkey's continued:

What's the IV?

The surrogate mother i.e the cylinders -the lactating mother or the contact comfort

What's the DV?

The time spent on by the infant monkey with each surrogate mother.

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What are the advantages of the study?

  • established cause and effete between the IV and the DV.
  • opportunity to get precise measurements of the monkey's behaviour that may be impossible in a non experimental environment.

What are the disadvantages of the study?

  • It's highly unethical to take an infant monkey away from it's mother, it endures stress from separation, and emotional deprivation cannot be justified. 
  • We are unable to generalise the finding to humans. 
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