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  • Created on: 24-04-13 13:21

The learning theory of attatchment

This is about learning through interaction and the environment around us.
*Goes against Bowlby's theory

Clasical conditioning

PAVLOV (1927)

UCS ---> UCR
CS + UCS --->UCR
CS ---> CR

UCS = Unconditioned stimulus (food)   UCR = Unconditioned response (pleasure)
CS = Conditioned response (caregiver) CR = Conditioned response (learnt response - pleasure)

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The learning theory of attatchment

Operant conditioning

DOLLAND & MILLER (1950) proposed that animal behaviour is influenced by the consequences of an action. Therefore, controlling the consequences can change the behaviour of an individual.

*Drive states - something which motivates you. In this case hunger, which motivates you to reduce this feeling and eat something.

Baby crying ----> Food (primary consequence) -----> Relaxed response
        l                                   l                                           l
*Ds:anger             *Rewarding consequence         *Hunger has gone away

Secondary reinforcement - drive reduction e.g. a caregiver
Primary reinforcement: negative reinforcement e.g. food

Caregivers are signals that food is on it's way - attatchment occurs but it is through a second source.

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The learning theory of attatchment

The learning theory evaluation

  • Powerful thoery - great practical value
  • Reductionist - criticised for being too simple and human life/behaviour is too complex
  • Cupboard love - HARLOW & HARLOW (1962)
    Seperated infant monkeys from their mother and raised them with two surrogate mothers. One mother supplied milk and one was a comforting mother covered in towel. They found that monkeys always went to the lactating mother for milk but always back to the other surrogate mother for comfort.

     Also, they had difficulties socialy interacting with other monkeys. Therfore, this shows     that food isn't the only reason for attatchment and even comfort added to that was no substitute. Shaffer & Emmerson (1964) confirmed this by showing that fewer than half of human infants attach only to the person who provides food and practical care.

Both of these studies suggest that good social and emotional care are more likely to result in healthy attatchments.

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Bowlby's theory of attachment (1953)

Bowlby proposed that human infants and their caregivers have inherited natural processes that enable them to attach to eachother and these have evolved through natural selection.

Social releasers

The way that an infant looks, cries, smiles etc. These are all signals which appeal to caregivers and elite social responses - such as protection, feeding and comforting.

The critical period

*7 - 18 months ---> 2/3 years of age
If this critical period is missed, the ability to form any attachment is lost and the individual will find it hard to form any relationship later on in life.

The continuity hypothesis

A 'warm, intimate, continuous relationship with the mother/caregiver' was essential for healtjy attachment. Any disruption could damage the bond and lead to problems later on in life.

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Bowlby's theory of attachment (1953)


Infants generally form an attachment with one figure. Failure to form this attachment can lead to insecure attachments and avoidant behaviour in childhood and adulthood.


  • Rutter et al (1998) showed that children can form an attatchment bond even though the critical period has been lost. He found this by studying children in adoption. However, even though attachment bonds were formed, they became less successful as the years went by which shows there is a sensetive period rather than a critical period.
  • Ainsworth (1967) said that no matter how continuous the bond is, the mother must always be responsive and sensetive. Mothers who were rejecting tended to have avoidant infants. (For bowlby's theory)
  • Shaffer and Emmerson (1964) studied 60 infants over a period of time. 29% had multiple attachments at 7 months, 59% at 10 months and 87% at 18 months. Shows infants are capable at making multiple attachments.
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Strange situation


1) A mother and infant are taken to an unfimilar room by an observer. The observer leaves.

2) The mother and infant are left alone to explore together

3) Stranger enters, silent at first and talks to the mother. Then, approaches the infant with a toy.

4) Mother quickly leaves room - stranger itneracts with the infant.

5) The mother returns and re-engages with her infant.

6) Infant is left alone.

7) Stranger returns and interacts with infant.

8) Mother returns to pick up her infant. Stranger quickly leaves.

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Strange situation


  • The behaviour towards the stranger
  • Reaction to seperation from mother
  • The reaction towards mother on her return
  • How much they want to explore
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Strange situation


used this technique on 56 North American, middle class, white infants ages 49 to 51 weeks.

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Types of attachment

Type A: Avoidant insecure
- Avoided the stranger, avoided the mother on her return, sometimes mother ignored infants.

Type B: Securely attached
- Prepared to explore, upset when mother left, greeted her on return, weary of the stranger.

Type C: Resistant Insecure
- destressed when mother's left, rejected her on return, seeked but rejected social interation towards the stranger. Mothers also behaved like this towrads their infants.

Type D: Insecure/detattched
- Identified by MAIN (1991), infants are generally fearful and it is normally linked to dysfunction of the family e.g. divorce, drugs, rejection etc.

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Strange situation


  • AINSWORTH & BELL'S study was observational which means they could not establish cause and effect.
    However, Van Ijzendoom and Schuengel (1999) concluded that senseitivty is casual - gave validity to Ainsworth and Bell's findings.
  • Low ecological validity - conditions were set and controlled which means it does not reflect everyday life etc.
  • Gives reliable results becasuse Van Ijzendoom and Kroonenberg (1988) found that attachment types Ainsworth found were similar in 8 other countries in Europe, Israel and Japan.
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Cultural variations in attachment

TAKAHASHI (1990) on 60 japanese infants.

- 68% securely attached
- 5% were avoidant-insecure - may be because japanese infants are taught that avoidance is rude.

*Japanese infants were much more distressed when left alone, compared to americsn infants because they selep with their mother until the age of 2.

*Procedure was stopped in many cases as the infants became very distressed.

Takahashi found that strange situation was very distressing for japanese infants and that it is not a valid measure of their attachment because they are taught that avoidance is rude.

*Also, data can not be generralised across all japanese infants because these were from middle class families.

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Disruptions of attachment

GOLDFARB (1943) - children in long term institutional care had social, cognitive and language development problems in later life. Less effected if they were adopted at a younger age.

SPITZ AND WOLF (1946) showed analitic depression in orphans who were institutionalised.

BOWLBY (1953) stressed the importance of the critical period. (2 years)

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Disruptions of attachment

44 juvenile thieves

Bowlby carried out a study on the early lives of 44 juvenile thieves.

- 17 of them had been serperated from their mother for ast leadt 6 months in the first years of life.

- In a comparison group of 44 unstable non-thieves, 2 had experienced such seperation

- 14 of these thieves were describes as having affectionless psychopathy

- 12 had experienced long maternal seperation

*Bowlby concluded that these outcomes were due to disruption of the attachment bond by seperation.

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Disruptions of attachment


Studied children serperated from their mothers for days/weeks due to hospitilization.

17-month old John was seperated from his mother for nine days and showed a 3 stage distress syndrome.

  • Protest - Distress, crying, seeking mother
  • Despair - Calmer, quiter behaviour, unresponsive to comfort
  • detatchment - increasing resposiveness to others

When John's mother returned, he rejected her and had to relearn his attachment to her.

---> Bowlby proposed that the sensetive period for him was disrupted as he was 17 months of age and the seperation disrupted the attachment to his mother.

*Supporting Bowlby's ideas

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Disruptions of attachment


  • Evidence linking deprivation to later problems in correlational.
  • Bowlby's 44 juvenile thieves may have lacked attention to individual circumstances
  • Robertson showed that in some of her case studies, seperation from the mother did not lead to disruption of attachment bond. She was a foster mother and her good quality emotional care protected the children.
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65 children who were institionalized before 4 months

  • Staff were not to form special relationships with the children
  • Compared to control groups - who lived with families
  • Followed up at the age of 4, 8 and 16 (logitudinal study)
  • After 4 years, 15 of the children had been restored to their families house
  • At 8 years. mothers were interviewed
  • At 16, children themselves were interviewed

Adopted and restored children were more friendly towards adults compared to control groups. They were less popular with peers. Adopted children were more likely to have a special friend compared to restored children. Also, adopted children had closer family relationships.
*Supports Bowlby's theory's view on the importance of forming an attachment bond.

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Hodges and tizard evaluation

  • Natural experiment - it would be ethically unacceptable to manipulate children's attachment opportunities. This means there is less confidence in the conclusions drawn.
  • They were unable to control who was selected to be restored.There may have been differences between the groups which could have distorted the results - confounding variables.
  • Family environments may have not been the same - another confouding variable
  • Sample size was very small - conclusions less reliable
  • Data was rich and detailed in the interviews
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GENIE - was reported by curtiss (1977). She was isolated, imprisoned and neglected up to the age of 13. Her development reflected a 6 year old. She could not speak or socialise even after attempts of teaching and good fostering.
*Suggests that effects of privation can be irriversible

CZECH TWIN BOYS - studies by KOLUCHOVA (1972). Their mother died when they were a young age and their father and stepmother neglected them. They were then discovered and fostered at the age of 8 and were given high quality care. They were able to recover and later went to school, got married and had no later effects.
*Goes against genie

ROMANIAN ORPHANS - studied by RUTTER et al. (2007). They suffered from privation and were then adopted. Those adopted before the age of 6 months developed normally but those who were adopted after 6 months had a lot of problems with attachment later on.

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Day care and social behaviour

NICHD study

  • over 1300 children recruited before the age of a month
  • Longitudinal study
  • Followed them up at 6, 15, 24, 36 and 54 months, pre school and beyond..
  • Detailed records were made
    In contrast to the Hodges & Tizard study (on privation)
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Day care and social behaviour

*Extensive non-parental care was associated with increase avoidance and insecuirity of attachment.

*Children who spend more than 20 hours per week in day care were more insecurely attached.
*He used strange situation classification on home care children (to compare with).

CLARKE-STEWART et al (1994)
*Found no attachment difference between those at home, day care or by childminders.

*Day care had a negative effect on securely attached children and positive effect on insecurely attached.

DILALLA (1998)
*Effects of day care on a child is effected by the child's personality and nature itself.

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Day care and peer relations

The EPPE project

  • high quality day care emphasizes early education
  • gives children a head start in school
  • too much time with the child minder is associated with high levels of anti-socialism later on in life because the child has depended on this person from a young age. Therefore, parental leave for childbirth would be increased from 6-9 months, to 12 months so that the mother gets to spend more time with the child rather than the childminder.
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Attachment on childcare practices


  • When kids are seperated from their parents, it can have a negative effect
  • Children wards now allow parents to stay with their children during their stay at the hospital - due to social mal-adjustment.


  • Before bowlby's research, adoption was discouraged until the parents had nursed them
  • Now, children are often put up for adoption a few weeks after birth


  • Approached generally used for adopted children who had been abused or neglected
  • Looks into the story of the individual and memories are explored - confront them

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