Attachment - Learning Theory


Classical Conditioning

Learning through association

Before Conditioned

  • Food = unconditioned stimulus
  • Pleasure = Unconditioned response

During Conditioning

  • Mother = neutral stimulus
  • Mother paired with food (unconditioned stimulus)

After Conditioning

  • Mother = conditioned stimulus
  • Pleasure = conditioned response

The conditioned response causes an attachment between infant and caregiver

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Operant Conditioning

Learning by reinforcement

  • Food = primary reinforcer - food brings pleasure as removes hunger which is rewarding
  • Caregiver = secondary reinforcer - food can't be eaten without mother bringing it

Infant therefore repeats actions like crying which attract mother to get food

Caregiver rewards the infant by feeding them so they associate the caregiver with the reward and repeat action

Infant learns to form an attachment with caregiver as know will be rewarded for doing so

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  • - There is supporting evidence that we do learn through classical conditioning
  • E - For example the Little Albert study in which baby Albert was taught to fear white rats by associating them with the loud banging of the steel bar
  • C - The theory is a plausible explanation but has been proven wrong
  • P - There is evidence against learning theory
  • E - For example Schaffer and Emerson conducted a longitudinal study of 60 babies, observing interaction between them and their caregivers and interviewed the parents. They found that attachments formed most strongly to those who repsonded most sensitively to needs, not those who fed them
  • C - This contradicts the idea that food is the factor needed for an infant to form an attachment
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