HideShow resource information
  • Created by: nagina
  • Created on: 12-03-13 12:55

Learning theory

Behaviourists suggest that all behaviour is learned either through classical or operant conditioning. you are born a blank slate.

Classical conditioning

Pavlov's Dogs

Conducting research on the salivation reflex in dogs, recording howmuch they salivated each time they were fed. He rang a bell for feeding time for the dog. Dog came and salivated but didnt get any food. Noticed that they started to salivate before they were fed. classical conditioning is learned through association. however this is not always the case some children may be bought up in care homes, lots of people are looking after them they are not able to make an attachment. 

According to learning theory the baby has to learn to form an attachment with his mother. by the process of classical conditiong the baby forms an attachment between the mother neutral stimulus and the feeling of pleasure that comes from being fed and innate unconditioned response. at first the baby only feels comforted by the food. However each time the baby is fed the association is there. The mother stimulates a feeling of attachment of her iwn even without food. this is the start of an attachment. 

1 of 11



  • Learning theory can provide an adequate explanation of how attachment is formed. 
  • Do learn throug association and reinforcement.
  • however food may not be a main reinforcer
  • Maybe the attention and responsiveness from a caregiver 


Contact comfort is more important than food.

2 of 11

Types of Attachment (Mary Ainsworth 1978)

The different types of attachment were investigated by placing 12-18 month-old infants in an increasingly stressful environment or 'Strange Situation' .

stressors placed on the infant and the observations made of  her behaviour:

Stressors:                              Observations:

Unfamiliar room                Reaction to caregiver leaving

Caregiver leaves the room Reaction to caregiver returning

Stranger in the room            Reaction to the stranger

3 of 11



  • Caregiver and infant enter the room
  • Stranger enters the room
  • caregiver leaves
  • Stranger returns
  • Caregiver returns and stranger leaves


  • Done on middle clas mums, bias cant generalise
  • Done in a lab, is controlled, dont have any extrenuous variables.
  • Lacks mundane realism
4 of 11



Ainsworth identified three types of attachment in American infants:

Type A Insecure-avoidant 20% Indifferent to caregiver - unconcerned if present or absent. Signs of distress when left alone but could be comforted by caregiver or stranger.

Type B Securely attached 70% Stay close to caregiver and are distressed by their departure but easily comforted on return. Stranger could give limited comfort.

Type C Insecure-resistant 10% Ambivalent to caregiver - both close and resistant at times. Anxious of environment and resistant to stranger.

5 of 11


A fourth type of attachment (insecure-disorganised or Type D) was identified by Main (1991), in which the infant is fearful of the attachment figure. This infant is in conflict as to whether he or she should seek or resist closeness.

Securely attached infants are thought to have a healthy emotional and social development. This is supported by evidence that they tend to become popular and confident social leaders (Stroufe, 1983).

The above research shows that the attachment types identified by the 'Strange Situation' have validity. Repetition of the procedure later in life produces the same results in infants, so the method also has reliability.

6 of 11


The 'Strange Situation' has been criticised for a number of reasons:

  • Relationships rather than attachments may be under investigation.
  • The scenario is unrealistic and may lack ecological validity.
  • The ethics of inducing anxiety in the caregivers and infants may be questioned.
  • The results cannot be generalised to cultures other than that of USA.
7 of 11

Cultural variations in attachments

Different cultures have different social norms and accepted ways of doing things. Cross-culturing variations occur in many aspects of behaviour including child rearing. This difference may result in differences in attachments.

One study surveyed the results of the 'Strange Situation' in many countries. Whilst all countries had secure attachments coming out top, there were marked differences between the countries (Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg, 1988). Did a meta analysis of findings from 32 atudies of attachment behaviour. sudy examined over 2000 strange situation classifications in 8 different countries. 

Infants raised in Japanese homes and in Israeli kibbutzim show high levels of insecure-resistant attachment. These being close environments with the primary caregiver always present and few strangers around could explain this.

8 of 11


German infants appear to be particularly insecure-avoidant in their attachments, although their parents were attentive to their children and sensitive to their needs. However, the parents considered some of the 'secure' behaviour to be too 'clingy' and discouraged it.

These findings suggest that the American criteria used in the 'Strange Situation' are not appropriate for other cultures: It would be wrong to suggest that the cultures with high levels of insecure attachments were raising children wrongly.

9 of 11

The impact of day care


Peer relations

Clarke-Stewart 1994) -when children go to day care make friends easy


Clarke-Stewart (1994) - Positive effect and not increased agression. become more socailly advantaged, obident, independant. 


Peer relations

Bowlsky (1988) - only 20+ hours week had attachment problems and problems with making friends. 

10 of 11



Bowlsky (2007) increased agressiveness in children who attended day care. 

In conclusion  the effect of day care on social development is seen to be positive. Children gain greater independence and become more competent at dealing with social interactions. However, this is only the case if the day care is of high quality, providing children with stimulating and well-organised experience.

11 of 11


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Attachment resources »