Bowlby's Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis (1951)

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  • Created on: 04-12-17 20:54

Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis:

  • Bowlby's monotropic theory believes that healthy pyschological develoment is dependent upon attachments forming between infants and their mothers.
  • His MDH explains what happens if these attachments are broken.
  • Bolwby argues that the disruption of the attachment bond - even short term disruptions - results in serious and permanent damage to a child's emotional, social and intellectual development.
  • The best way to examine the validity of he MDH is to assess the effects of disruption to infants' attachments and see if Bowlby's predictions are true.
  • Disruptions can occur in 3 basic ways:

1. SEPARATION:  short term disruption to attachment bond.

2.  DEPRIVATION:  long term disruption to attachment bond.

3.  PRIVATION:  attachment bond never established.

Institutionalisation can also be examined to see its effects on infant development.

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Separation (1):

  • Consists of brief, temporary separations from attachment figures, like attending day care, being left with a babysitter or a short period of hospitalisation.  
  • Separation can be as little as minutes, or as long as a few days but there is no suggestion that the child and its parents will not be reunited.
  • Recent studies by Heller (1997) looking at the differences and similarities between monkeys and human infants during spearation have found that separation reduces the body temperature, releases stress hormones, creates agitation and anxiety and sleep disturbances, to name but a few physiological processes, all of which are found in both human infants and monkeys.  When reunited these processes are largely reversed, showing that attachment is not jus an emotional bond but has a physiological function as well. 
  • Robertson & Bowlby (1952) observed children's behaviour when they were separated from their parents due to hospitalization.  49 children, aged 1-4 years old were observed and the researchers noticed a particular sequence of events that occurred frequently, when separated from their Mother. 
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Separation (2):

  • They described the distress caused by short-term separation in terms of the PDD model (protest, despair and detachment):

Protest:  The immediate reaction to separation involves crying, screaming, kicking and struggling to escape or clinging to the mother to prvent her leaving.  This is an outward, direct expression of the child's anger, fear, bitterness and confusion.

Despair: Protest is replaced by calmer, more apathetic behaviour.  Anger and fear are still felt inwardly.  There is little response to offers of comfort; instead the child comforts itself e.g. by thumb sucking.

Detachment: The child responds to people again, but treats everyone warily.  Rejection of the caregiver on their return is common, as are signs of anger.

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Separation (3):

  • Problems with this study:

1. It fails to take into account any personality differences.  

2. 49 children sounds a lot but is not a large enough sample to draw any meaningful conclusion.

3. It does not take into account the type of attachment that has already been formed with the caregiver.

4. This study might tell us more about the types of children who were hospitalised than the results of the separations alone.  

5. Children in hospital may also be in pain and almost certainly have some physical ailment which would make them more sensitive to the absence of a comforting figure and may lead them to feel more abandoned than they actually were.

6. Observed in a less frightening situation they might deal with separation in a different way. 

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Separation (4):

  • Robertson & Robertson reported their Brief Separation study as a series of 5 short films.
  • One film featured John, 17 months who had a close and stable relationship with his mother but whom experienced extreme distress while spending 9 days in a residential nursery while his mother was in hospital having a baby.  The negative effects of this separation were evident even years later.  John appeared to go through the 3 stages of the PDD model, suffering serious, irreversible damage, lending support to Bowlby's MDH.  However, this research project as a whole lessened support for Bowlby's MDH theory since the other 4 films show children being taken into the Robertson's own home, giving them a familiar routine to that of their own homelife and providing them with an alternative attachment.  They found this prevented severe pyschological damage such as that seen with John.  SEE SEPARATE CARD.
  • This research led to the closure of Residential Nurseries in favour of Foster Care for young children.
  • Further support for MDH was found by Douglas (1975) found that separations of less than a week for children below 4 years of age were correlated with behavioural difficulties.
  • Quinton & Rutter (1976) found greater behavioural problems in smaples of adolescents briefly separated from attachment figures before 5 years of age through hospitalisation, than among adolescents who weren't hospitalised, supporting Bowlby's prediction of long-term developmental damage.
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Separation (5):

  • Much evidence linking short-term separation to negative outcomes is correlational and doesn't show causality.  Kagan et al (1978) fund no direct causal link between separation and emotional and behavioural difficulties.
  • Barrett (1971) argued that individual differences in reactions to short-term separation are important.  E.g. securely attached children and more mature children cope better with separations, which suggests only some children experience distress.
  • James Robertson's film "A 2 Year Old Goes To Hospital" (1952) showed how separation from the primary attachment figure resulted in children experiencing distress.  This work led to radical changes in hospital practices, daily visiting for children was introduced, followed by unrestricted visiting and admission of the mother to hospital with the child.
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Deprivation (1):

  • Involves lengthy or permanent separations from attachment figures, most commonly due to divorce.
  • The phrase was originally coined after the war as many children had experienced such lengthier separations due to death, trauma or physical removal from their neighbourhood with no clear understanding of when or whether the attachment bond they had developed would be renewed.
  • Around 40% of marriages in the UK end in divorce.  Within 2-3 years, 50% of divorced parents not living with their children (usually the father) have lost contact with their chidren.
  • Long term deprivation can also include death or imprisonment of a parent and resulting adoption by different caregivers.
  • Rodgers & Pryor (1998) found that children experiencing two or more divorces have the lowest adjustment rates and the most behavioural problems, suggesting that continual broken attachments increase the chances of negative outcomes for children, supporting Bowlby's MDH.
  • Furstenberg & Kiernan (2001) found that children experiencing divorce score lower than children in first-marriage families on measures of social development, emotional wellbeing, self-concept, academic performance, educational attainment and physical health, suggesting that divorce has wide-ranging effects on children's development in line with Bowlby's MDH.
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Deprivation (2):

  • Schaffer (1996) found that nearly all chidren are negatively affected by divorce in the short term, thought Hetherington & Stanley (1999) found that only about 25% of children experience long term adjustment problems, with most children able to adapt, lessening support for Bowlby's MDH.
  • Seems logical that long-term separation has a greater negative effect upon children's development than short-term separation and research backs this up.
  • Richards (1987) found that attachment disruption through divorce leads to resentment and stress, while the death of an attachment figure is more likely to result in depression than delinquency.  Implies that separation through different causes different outcomes.
  • Demo & Acock (1996) found that children vary widely in reactions to divorce, with some children developing better attachments to the parents after divorce.  This may be due to the removal of the negative environment of marital conflict and also to parents being more attentive and supportive to children after divorcing.  Suggests that divorce doesn't necessarily bring negative side effects.
  • Research has allowed pyschologists to create strategies to help chidlren cope with divorice.  Some American states have a legal requirement for divorcing parents to attend an education programme that teaches them to understand and avoid the difficulties associated with disrupted attachments, like providing emotional warmth and support and keeping to consistent rules.
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Privation (1):

  • Concerns children who have never made an attachment bond.
  • If Bowlby's theory is correct that if a bond is broken, negative effects can be seen, it would definitely suggest that if a child has no opportunity at all to bond with it's mother it would have lasting negative effects, which is the case of privation.
  • Studies like Harlow's Monkeys look at the effects of privation with the monkeys reared in isolation without a parent.
  • More likely than deprivation to lead to lasting damage, but research results are contradictory, with some individuals fully recovering, while others make little if any improvement.  
  • Effects of privation:

1. Dwarfism:  this has been described by Gross as one possible result of privation through maternal rejection, although another possible explanationin these rejected children is inadequate nutrition.

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Privation (2):

2. Affectionless Psychopathy:  Described by Bowlby as an inability to have deep feelings for other people leading to a lack of meaningful relationships in adulthood.  Harlow's monkey experiments provided evidence for this.  Bowlby related this to the effects of deprivation however, Rutter (1981) argued that evidence for this is unconvincing and privation is more likely to be the cause of the development of an affectionless character with multiple changes of the mother figure and home environment in the early years making the establishment of attachments very difficult.

3. Developmental Retardation:  Bowlby, Spitz & Goldfarb all claimed that mothering is essential for normal intellectual development.  However Skeels & Dye (1939) looked at the comparative effects of orphanage and specialised state care developed for people with learning difficulties in the USA.  They found that children who were given specialised care increased their intellectual ability and were able to live unsupervised lives in adulthood.  Those reared in orphanages remained at a lower intellectual and dependent level of functioning.  Generally it is poor, unstimulating environments which are associated with learning difficulties and retarded linguistic development.

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Privation (3):

  • As cases of privation are rare, and since they cannot be condcted as experiements of any kind, they are generally researched through case studies.
  • Freud & Dann (1951) reported on 6 children placed in a Nazi concentration camp who were orphaned at a few months of age and had formed no maternal attachments.  Taken at age 3-4 to the Bulldog Bank Centre in West Sussex, they had little language, didn't know what to do with toys and were hostile to adults.  Were devoted to each other, however, and refused to be separated.  Very gradually they became attached totheir carers and made rapid develoments in physical and intellectual capabilities.  Wasn't possible to trace all children as adults but those that were had made good recoveries and had successful adult relationships, lessening support for Bowlby's MDH.  Although Moskowitz (1983) reports that they were all individually adopted and never saw each other again and so should have exhibited the effects of disrupted attachment from each other.
  • Koluchova (1972, 1991) reported on identical twins whose mother died soon after birth.  When father remarried, the stepmother locked them in a cellar for 5 1/2 years, regular beatings.  Father was mainly absent from the home.  Discovered, age 7, underdeveloped physically, lacked speech and didn't understand the meaning of pictures.  Doctors predicted permanent mental and physical damage.  They were given physical therapy and put into school for children with severe learning difficulties, before being adopted. 
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Privation (4):

  • Age 14 their intellectual, social, emotional and behavioural functioning was near normal.  As adults both married, had children and held down successful jobs.  Have enjoyed successful adut relationships and still close to one another.
  • Curtiss (1977) and Rymer (1993) reported on Genie, a girl denied human interaction, beaten and strapped to a p0otty seat until age 13.  Coud not stand or speak.  Recieved years of therapy and was tested constanty, developing some language abilities and improving her IQ from 38 in 1971 to 74 in 1977.  Returned to the care of her mother, before moving to a succession of foster homes where she was further abused.  Genie then deteriorated physically and mentally, before going to live in a home for people with learning difficulties.
  • It may be that the close attachments the Czech twins and Bulldog Bank children had to each other explain why they made lasting recoveries, whilse Genie, who had no attachments, made little.
  • Case studies are usually used to study extreme privation, since it would be unethical or impractical to use most other research methods.
  • Case studies are dependent upon retrospective memories that may be selective and even incorrect.  No way of knowing fully what happened to thes eindividuals before discovery.  Genie's mother, for example, often gave conflicting stories of what happened to her daughter.
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Privation (5):

  • Case studies are prime territory for researcher / observer bias, with the researcher only reporting what they want to see.
  • Bowlby's viewpoint that the negative effects of maternal deprivation seems overstated.  Children whose privation experiences were followed by positive experiences made good recoveries.
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Reversing Effects of Privation (1):

  • It does seems that adoption and long-term fostering can help to reduce the harmful effects of early privation resulting from being brought up in institutions Tizard (1977).  Even up to the age of 12 Kadushin (1970), Triseliotis (1980).  This may be because the adoptive parents work harder at being parents and because the children experience higher quality and continuity of care.
  • The work of Freud & Dann (1951 - Bulldogs Bank Children) and Kulochova (1972, 1976 - Czech Twins) also indicates that social and emotional development are related to the formation of an emotional bond itself, not necessarily a bond with a mother-figure.
  • Results from fostering and adoption studies generally conclude that mental and emotional stability depends ont he reason for the original privation and whether ot not children have previously had successful attachments with their mother.
  • Generally appears to be the case that instiutionalised children have greater emotional problems than children with normal attachments but they often come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds which largely accounts for the differences.
  • It's still considered best practice to adopt a child as young as possible in order for the child to have the best chance of forming a strong attachment bond.
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Reversing Effects of Privation (2):

  • It seems that attachment at birth is very important bt it doesn't necessarily matter who is providing the nurturing.  It's the quality that counts.  A comprehensive study in Minnesota Frievalds (2002) found that there was minimal difference in psychological functioning between children raised in adoptive families and biological families.
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Institutionalisation (1):

  • Concerns the effects upon attachments of care provided bvy orphanages and residential children's homes.
  • Bowlby's MDH was largely based on studies conducted with children raised in such institutions during 1930's and 1940's.
  • Institutional care often involves distinctive patterns of attachment behaviour and so can be regarded as a phenomenon in its own right; often involves a mix of privation and deprivation effects.
  • Institutionalised children often show a distinctive attachment behaviour called disinhibited attachment, characterised by clingy, attention-seeking behaviour and indsicriminate sociability to adults.
  • Goldfarb (1943) compared 15 children raised in social isolation in institutions from 6 months - 3 1/2 years with 15 children who went straight from their natural mothers to foster homes.  Age 3 the socially isolated children lagged behind the fostered children on measures of abstract thinking, social maturity, rule following and sociability.  Between the ages of 10-14 they continued to perform poorly, with an average IQ of 72 compared to the fostered children's IQ of 95. However...
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Institutionalisation (2):

  • ...Goldfarb's study had serious methodological flaws:  did not use random samples, so poss. that fostered chidlren were naturally brighter, more sociable and healthier than socially isolated children and that's why they were fostered rather than placed in institutional care.  Also, institutions provided unstimulating environments and it may have been this lack of stimulation rather than the absence of maternal care that led to retarded development.
  • Spitz (1946) studied children raised in poor quality South American orphanages.  Members of staff were overworked and undertrained and rarely talked to the children or picked them up, even for feeding.  Children recieved no affection and had no toys.  Children displayed anaclitic depression, a reaction to the loss of a love object, showeing fear, sadness, weepiness, withdrawal, loss of appetite, weight loss, inability to sleep and developmental retardation.
  • Bowlby (1944) compared 44 juvenile thieves with a control group of non-thieves who had suffered emotional problems.  32% of thieves exhibited affectionless psychopathy lacking a social consicence.  None of the control group was classed in this way.  86% of the affectionless psychopaths had experienced maternal separation compared to 17% of thieves who were not affectionless psychopaths.  Supports Bowlby's idea that maternal deprivationcan have serious and long-lasting negative effects.
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Institutionalisation (3):

  • Tizard & Hodges (1978) studied children placed into institutional care in the first 4 months of life.  These children were privated as they had not formed attachments with their mothers.  High staff turnover and the institute's policy of not letting carers form relationships with children prevented attachments forming.  Some children remained in the institution, some were adopted and some restored to their natural homes.  There was also a control group of children raised in their natural homes.  Children were assessed at age 4 and 8 and then again at 16.  Children who remained instituionalised had no strong attachments and problems relating to peers.  Adopted children formed strong attachments within their adoptive familes but had problems with relationships outside their families.  Restored children tended to have poor family and peer relationships and behavioural problems.  Suggests institutional care has long-lasting negative effects, though development of close attachments is possible wth loving care, as provided by adoptive parents. However...
  • ...as with the Goldfarb study, it's poss. that the more sociall skilled children may have been adopted and so found it easier to form attachments within their adoptive families.  Study also suffered from atypical sample attrition, thus affecting the reliability of results.  Common in longtiduional studies of this nature.
  • Rutter (2006) found that multiple carers provided by childrens residential homes led to the formation of disinhibited attachments, supporting the idea of institutional care creating distinct attachment types.
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Institutionalisation (4):

Adoption & Fostering Studies:

  • Dennis (1960) looked at Iranian orphanages where children were understimulated intellectually and emotionally.  He concluded that children adopted from orphanages after the age of 2 were incapable of closing the gap in IQ between themselves and the average child.

Romanian Orphans:

  • 1990's media attention directed to horrific conditions endured by children in Romanian orphanages.
  • Lack of nourishing food, toys and social interaction and little in the way of loving care.
  • Divided into age groups, orphans had little contact with older and more able peers.
  • Many of these children were adopted and taken to more enriching environments in other countries where their progress has been monitored by psychologists in a series of research studies, generally to see if the effects of institutional care and privation can be overcome in the long term.
  • In 1 year there were 3,700 adoptions from Romania.  Two thirds of these children adjusted well, but a third did not, finding it hard or impossible to form an attachment with their new parents and showing destructive behaviours and emotional and learning problems Deane (1997).
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Institutionalisation (5):

  • Rutter's (1998) romanian orphans study is a key study in this area.  SEE SEPARATE CARDS.
  • O'Connor et al (1999) reported that the most enduring negative effects were difficulties making attchments.  Many orphans displayed "indiscriminate friendliness" (when children interact with strangers in the same way they would with a primary caregiver).  These effects appear to be positively correlated to the length of time children were instituionalised.
  • O'Connor et al (2000) performed a follow-up study at age 6 years, finding the improvements were maintained, but not advanced on.
  • Rutter et al (2001) performed a follow-up study, finding attachment problems, hyperactivity and cognitive impairment to be associated with institutionalisation, especially in children ednuring long periods of institutionalisation, though 20% of such children showed normal functioning.  Emotional problems, poor peer relations and behaviour problems were not associated with institutionalisation.  This suggests specific negative effects are related to long-term instituitonalisation, but only in certain types of children.
  • Rutter (2007) followed up the same children aged 11, finding that many showed normal levels of functioning, but about 50% of those showing disinhibited attachments at age 6 were still doing so.
  • Morrison & Elwood (2005) found similar results with a group of Romanian orphans adopted by Canadian adoptive parents.  Suggests Rutter's findings are reliable.
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Reactive Attachment Disorder:

  • A spectrum of symptoms is shown in this disorder and are typically the result of trauma, neglect or abuse or a constant change of care-giver in the first 3 years of life.  
  • It's thought that younger children are at greater risk as they're more likely to go into a higher number of foster homes.
  • Some of the symptoms include:

- lack of eye contact

- indiscriminately affectionate with strangers

- destructive behaviour

- cruelty to animals

- stealing

- lack of conscience

- persistent nonsense questions and abnormal speech patterns

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Evaluation of MDH (1):

  • Prof. Sir Michael Rutter describes MDH as a disruption or interference with the relationship with primary care-giver, not simply separation, as Bowlby saw it.
  • Rutter looked at mental health surrouding divorce and death and found that the negative effects of divorce are much stronger than death, despite death being a much more permanent separation.  Suggested that death doesn't involve he conflict and dischord that seems to be a driving factor in divorce.
  • Rutter agrees with Bowlby more than he disagrees with him BUT he disagrees on several key things:

1. That spearation is the key thing.  It's not in Rutter's view.

2. On there being just 1 attachment.  Rutter says most children form multiple attachments.  Not to say that main attachment isn't the most important but it is to say that the "norm" is several attachment, and probably adaptive to have more than one.  Throughout history it's very unusal not have someone other than the mother involved in the care of the children.

3. Psychoanalytic theory is completely hopeless at dealing with MDH.  Bowlby's theories on attachment were greeted with extreme hostility.  Bowlby did lay value with pyschoanalysts forcing you to think about feelings but that's as far as it goes.

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Evaluation of MDH (2):

  • Rutter argues that it's the sensitivity, rather than the sex, of the caregiver that is most important in attachments forming.
  • He describes Bowlby's theories as "a combination of psychoanalytic theory and animal studies pointing to critical periods and imprinting.  Both of which have now been shown to be mistaken to a considerable degree.  There are sensitive priods for development but these apply to only some psychological functions and the limits of sensitive periods are not as fixed as first thought".
  • Was thought that findings on insecurity and security of early attachments between infants and care-givers would have long-term predictive value, but long-term longitudinal studies have shown that predictive vlaue from the first 2 years is actually very weak, Grossman et al (2005).
  • Early pattern of selective attachments constitutes crucially important starting point, but later functioning is not set in the early years but influenced by later experiences as they accumulate over time in middle childhood and later.
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