Learning Theory of Attachement AO1

  • Learning theory proposes that children are born as blank slates and that attachments are formed through classical and operant conditioning.

  •  Classical conditioning involves learning through association. Food (UCS) produces a sense of pleasure (UCR).

  • The person who feeds (CS) the child becomes associated with food.

  •  The feeder eventually produces the pleasure associated with food; pleasure now becomes a (CR).

  • This association between an individual and a sense of pleasure is the attachment bond. 

  • Dollard and Miller (1950) offer an explanation of attachment based on operant conditioning.

  • They suggest a hungry infant feels uncomfortable and this creates a drive to reduce the discomfort.

  • When the infant is fed the drive is reduced and this produces a feeling of pleasure, which is rewarding.

  • Food is a primary reinforce because it reinforces the behaviour in order to avoid discomfort.

  • The person supplying the food is associated with avoiding discomfort and is known as a secondary reinforce.

  • Attachment occurs because the child seeks the person who can supply the reward.

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Evoluntionary Theory of Attachment AO1

  • Bowlby's theory of attachment is formed on the basis of evolution, according to Bowlby children have an innate drive to become attached to a care giver because attachment has long term benefits, similar to the benefits of imprinting. Both attachment and imprinting ensure that young animal stays close to a caregiver who will feed and protect the young animal; this is known as an adaptive behaviour.

  • Infants are born with certain characteristics called social releases, which cause caregiving such a smiling, crying, this is the innate system in babies and caregiving is the innate response in adults.

  • Since attachment is innate there is a limited window for development known as the critical period, according to Bowlby this is 2.5 years, if attachments do not form within this period children are likely to experience difficulties such as delinquency.

  • Bowlby also believed that infants form a number of attachments but one of these has special importance, the bias towards one individual is known as monotrophy. The one special attachment is usually with the mother.

  • Gradually the infant develops a model about emotional relationships, this is known as the continuity hypothesis, this is a collection of concepts about relationships and what to expect from others.

  • The internal working model means there is consistency between early emotional experiences and later relationships. 

  • This leads to the internal working model, the view that there is a link between the early attachment relationship and later emotional behaviour, individuals who are securely attached in infancy continue to be socially and emotionally competent, whereas insecurely attached children have more difficulties later in childhood and adulthood.

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Types of Attachment AO1

  • Mary Ainsworths: aim was to see how infants 9-18 months behave under conditions of mild stress and novelty stress.

  • The procedure consists of 8 episodes, each designed to highlight certain behaviours; The first is parent and infant play, the second is parent sits while infant pleas which is assessed as use of parent secure, the third is stranger enters and talks to parent which is assessed as stranger anxiety, the fourth is parent leaves, infant play, stranger offers comfort if needed which is asses as separation anxiety, the fifth is parents returning, greet infant, offers comfort if needed which is assessed by reunion behaviour, the sixth is parents leaves, infant alone which is assed as separation anxiety , the seventh is stranger enters and offers comfort which is assessed as stranger anxiety and the eight is parents return, greets infant and offers comfort which is asses by reunion behaviour.

  • An observational technique is used where they observe each episodes last 3 minutes long. Data is collected by a group of observer who record what the infant is doing every 15 seconds on an intensity scale of 1-7(secure base, stranger anxiety, separation anxiety, and reunion behaviour). Ainsworth found that exploratory behaviours declined in all infants from episodes 2 whereas the amount of crying increased.

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Types of Attachment - Findings AO1

  • They found that out of the strange situation participants, 66% were secure attachment type (Type B), 22% were Insecure-Avoidant attachment type (Type A) and 12% insecure-Resistant Attachment Type (Type C).
  • From this experiment they found that infants with a secure attachment type behaved in certain ways; uses the caregiver as a safe base for exploration with regards to the secure base, doesn’t cry when the caregiver leaves the room in separation anxiety, seemed slightly upset when the parent leaves in stranger anxiety and greeted her positively when mother returned in reunion behaviour.
  • Also from this experiment they found that infants with an insecure avoidant attachment type behaviour a different way; avoid social interaction and intimacy with others in the secure base, Little response to separation in the separation anxiety, Avoided the stranger but not as strongly as they avoided the mother on her return in the stranger anxiety and Doesn’t seek proximity on reunion in reunion behaviour.
  • Finally they found that infants with insecure resistant attachment type behaved in a different manner; Both seek and reject intimacy and social interaction in the secure base, Immediate and intense distress in separation anxiety, Shows ambivalent behaviour towards the stranger in stranger anxiety and Rejected mother when she returned in reunion behaviour.
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Cross Clutural Variation AO1

  • Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) conducted a meta-analysis of the findings from 32 studies of attachment behaviours.

  • The studied examined over 2000 Strange Situation classifications in different countries.

  • They were interested to see whether there would be evidence that inter-cultural differences did exist- differences between different countries/ cultures.

  • They were also interested to find out whether there were intra-cultural differences- differences within the same cultures.

  • In relation to variations between countries and cultures they found that the differences were small.

  • Secure attachment was the most common classification in every country.

  • Insecure avoidant attachment was the next most common in every country except in Israel and Japan.

  • In relations to variation within cultures, they found that this was 1.5 times greater than the variations between cultures.

  • The global pattern across cultures appears to be similar to that found in the US.

  • Secure attachment is the ‘norm’- it is the most common form of attachment in all countries.

  • These cross cultural similarities support the view that attachment is an innate biological process.

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Disruption of Attachment AO1

  • Robertson and Robertson investigate the effects on physical separation on young children.

  • Robertson and Robertson studied the effects of physical separation on attachment.

  • The Robertson's filmed young children while they were separated from their mothers using naturalistic observations.

  • John was in a residential nursery for 9 days, separated from his mother.

  • He experienced both emotional and physical separation because the Nurses did not have time to look after John.

  • Lucy, Thomas and Kate experienced only physical separation from their mothers because their emotional needs were not met by the Robertson are who cared for them.

  • Jane, Lucy, Thomas and Kate coped well and returned to their families in relation to John who in his first week greeted his father enthusiastically but by the second week he just sits quietly when his father is there and doesn’t say anything.

  • Then when his mother came to pick him up he screamed and struggled to get away from her.

  • For months after he continued to show outbursts of anger towards his mother. This shows that physical disruption alone did not have a negative outcome but emotional disruption did.

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Privation - Failure to form AO1

  • HODGES AND TIZARDS- to investigate failure to form an attachment. they followed a group of 65 British children from early life to adolescence.

  • The children had been placed in one institution when they were less than 4 months old. At this age they haven’t formed any attachments. There was an explicit policy in the institution against the ‘care takers’ forming attachments with the children.

  • An early study found 70% were described as not able to ‘care deeply about anyone’. Most of the children had experienced early emotional privation. Some of the children remained in the institution, but most had left it and either been adopted or restored to their original family. The ‘restored’ children were less likely to have formed attachments with their mothers.

  • Adopted children were as closely attached to their parent as a control group of ‘normal’ children. Both groups of ex-institutional children had problems with peers. Less likely to have a special friend and less likely to be liked by others. More quarrelsome and more likely to be bullies. Sought more adult attention. Suggests that early privation had a negative effect on the ability to form relationships even when given good emotional care. Supports Bowlby’s view that the failure to form an attachment during the critical period has an irreversible effect on emotional development.

  • Rutter et al -To investigate failure to form an attachment. They studied a group of 100 Romanian orphans and assessed them at 4,6,11 years old. Those who were adopted by British families before the age of 6 months have shown ‘normal’ emotional development when compared with UK children adopted at the same age. Many of the Romanian orphans adopted after 6 months showed disinhibited attachments and had problems with peers.

  • Suggests that long term consequences may be less severe than once thought if children have the opportunity to form an attachment. When children do not form attachments then the consequences are likely to be severe.

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Impact of Daycare - Aggression AO1+AO2

  • Several studies have shown that children who attend day care for more than 30 hours a week are more aggressive than those who don’t. in the NICHD study, children in full time day care were more likely to show behaviour problems when they went to school. These included temper tantrums and hitting other children.

  •  A Limitation of this study is that the data it provides are not causal, therefore it does not show that high levels of day care have caused an increase in aggressive behaviour. Some critics have argued that such correlational data showing a relationship between day care and aggression is meaningless if it doesn’t not indicate the process by which aggression is increased as a result of day care.

  • A UK study (Melhuish, 2004) found that children who spent a lot of time in day care in the first two years were more at risk of developing anti-social behaviour later on, including aggression towards peers. A Canadian study (Baker et al 2008) found that following the introduction of universal day care in Quebec, aggression among 2 – 4 year olds increased by 24% compared to 1% in the rest of Canada.

  • There are always methodological problems associated with research into the effects of day care. Carrying out experimental research that could demonstrate a causal relationship between day care and aggression would create ethical problems where it could be considered unethical and impractical to randomly allocate children to either a day care group or to remain with their mothers.

  • It is also possible that children who are raised in aggressive environments are more likely to be sent to day care than children who are raised in less aggressive environments. It may well then be the backgrounds of the children rather than any day care experiences that influence the development of aggressive behaviour.

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Impact of Daycare - Peer Relations AO1

  • The Minnesota Longitudinal Study found that securely attached children go on to be more popular with peers, and there is evidence that children in day care are less likely to be securely attached (Belsky and Rovine, 1988), therefore they are likely to be less successful in peer relationships.
  • However, day care also gives children the opportunity to spend time with their peers and so develop social strategies and make friends, therefore day care could also make children more successful in peer relationships.
  • This conclusion is supported by Field 1991 who found that the amount of time spent in full time day care was positively related to the number of friends that a child has. Clarke Stewart found that children who had attended day care were better at settling disputes with other children.


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Influence of research into Attachment - Childcare

  • Research into attachment has influenced child care practices in many ways. One influence has been on day care practices. For example at the Soho Family Centre they base their child care on attachment theory and make sure children all have secondary attachment figures.

  • This is supported by Bowlby’s theory. He claimed that primary attachment figures are important in a child’s emotional development. However, according to Bowlby, if the child’s primary attachment figure is absent, secondary attachment figures create an emotional safety net.

  • Another influence has been on caring for children in hospital. Attachment research has shown that children need substitute emotional care from other adults when they are separated from their parents, even for short periods of time. This means they do not experience the negative effects of disruption of attachment.

  • This is supported by research such as the Robertson’s study. They showed that the children who were given a good level of substitute emotional care while their mothers were absent, appeared to experience no ill effects from separation.

  • A third influence has been adoptions, which often used to take pace when babies were quite old. Attachment research showed that attachments may not form after 6 months so attachments are done earlier than this if possible.

  • This is supported by the research by Rutter et al studying Romanian orphans adopted by UK families. Those orphans adopted before the age of 6 months appear to have recovered well, whereas the same is not true for later adoptions. This supports the importance of early adoptions.

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Influence of Research into Daycare on Childcare p

  • Research into day care suggests that quality is the most important factor in ensuring that children experience benefits rather than drawbacks from attending day care. For example, field 1991 found that the greatest benefits of day care on peer relations were for those children in high quality care. Therefore if we wish to maximise these positive effects we need to maximise the quality of care. Offering sensitive care is an important aspect of this.
  • Research has further found that the ratio of staff to children is one way to improve quality, for example NICD study found that day care staff could only provide sensitive high quality care if the ratios were as low as 1:3.
  • Research has also found that the experience of the staff is a key factor in ensuring high quality. Sylva et al 2003 found that the quality of care provided was positively correlated with the qualification level of the day care staff.


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