Bowlby's Monotropic Theory:

  • Created by: KarenL78
  • Created on: 04-12-17 20:21

Monotropic Theory (1):

  • Bowlby's WHO report on Maternal Care and Mental Health, concerning the mental health of homeless children (of whom there were a lot after WW2) led to his evolutionary explanation of attachment - the monotropic theory - and also his maternal deprivation hypothesis concerning the disruption of attachment bonds.
  • Heavily influenced by the ethological approach and the animal studies of Harlow and Lorenz, which led him to reject learning theory.
  • The ethological approach examines the behaviours of animals to extrapolate behaviours that can then be applied to humans: 

i). the instinctive nature of attchment behaviour - babies have an inborn tendency to display behaviour which encourages closeness and contact with mother or mother figure.  In ethological terms this is called imprinting.

ii). the importance of parental responsiveness to these innate behaviours.

iii). the critical or sensiive period early in the child's life when attachment must develop. Bowlby calomed that mothering is almost useless if delayed until after the age of 2 1/2 - 3 years.  For most children this is restricted to 12 months. 

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Monotropic Theory (2):

  • He applied the findings of these and other animal studies to humans to suggest that emotional bonds had evolutionary functions.  
  • He saw attachment bonds as developing during the Pleistocene (stone-age) era where humans faced the constant danger of predators and so attachments evolved via the process of natural selection to ensure that offspring stayed close to caregivers with infants becoming genetically programmed to behave towards their mothers in ways that increased their survival chances.
  • These innate species-specific attachment behaviours are known as social releasers and include:

crying:  to attract parents' attention.

looking, smiling and vocalising:  to maintain parental attention and interest.

following and clinging: to gain and maintain proximity to parents.

  • Infants display these attachment behaviours from a very early stage.
  • They occur in an automatic, stereotyped way to begin with and are triggered by many people.
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Monotropic Theory (3):

  • By the end of the first year these behaviours become focused on a few individuals and thus become organised into more flexible and sophisticated behaviour systems.
  • Attachments only form if caregivers respond to these behaviours in a meaningful way.
  • Bowlby believed that the evolution of attachment behaviours involved a complementary system where carers respond to infants' signals in a meaningful way.
  • Although Bowlby saw this as occurring between infants and their biological mothers, he acknowledged that this could occur occasionally with fathers or even a non-biological figure.
  • Bowlby saw the function of attachment as a control system to maintain proximity to the mother.  When this state occurs, attachment behaviour is quiet - infants have no need to cry or cling and so they can get on with playing and exploring (which aids mental and social development).  When this state is threatened, mother disappears from view or a stranger approaches, attachment behaviours are activated to restore it.
  • Generally attachment behaviours are seen when children are upset, ill, scared or in strange surroundings and which particular responses are produced change as children grow and become more competent, cognitively and behaviourally.
  • Bowlby believed there is a critical period for the formation of attachments.  
  • He saw attachment behaviours as useless for most children if delayed until after 12 months and useless for all children if delayed until after 2 1/2 - 3 years.
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Evaluation of Monotropic Theory (1):

  • Research evidence supports the continuity hypothesis that there is a consistency between early attachment type and later relationships in line with Bowlby's theory.
  • Although Schaffer & Emerson (1964) found that children tended to have multiple attachments, they also tended to have one primary attachment figure, supporting Bowlby's theory.
  • Bowlby's theory has been used by right-wing political figures as a scientific proof that women should be at home mothering children and not at work with their children in day care.
  • Imprinting applies mainly to precocial animals (those mobile soon after birth), since humans are an altricial species (born at a relatively early stage of development), thus imprinting may not relate to humans.  
  • Bowlby's theory sees attachment as a human form of imprinting suggesting that mere exposure to another individual is sufficient for an attachment to develop, however Schaffer & Emerson (1964) found that attachments occurred mainly with individuals displaying sensitive responsiveness, which goes against this idea.
  • Bowlby sees fathers as minor attachment figures but research shows that fathers can be attachment figures in their own right.
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Evaluation of Monotropic Theory (2):

  • Schaffer & Emerson (1964) found results that go against Bowlby's idea of monotropy with their study that showed multiple attachments were the norm with 39% of children having their main attachment with someone other than their main carer.
  • Rutter (1981) also found that mothers are not special in the way that Bowlby believed.  Infants display a range of attachment beahviours towards attachment figures other than their mothers and there is no particular attachment behaviour used specifically and exclusively towards mothers, lessening support for Bowlby's theory.
  • Lamb et al. (1982) studied infants attachments with their fathers, grandparents and siblings and found that infants had different attachments for different purposes, rather than hierarchical attachments e.g. go their fathers for play, mothers for comfort, thereby lessenin support for Bowlby's theory.
  • Kagan (1984) founded the temprament hyopthesis by finding that infants have an innate personality - easy going / difficult - which influences the quality of their attachments with caregivers and later relationships with adults.  Suggests that attachments form as a result of temperament NOT an innate gene for attachment, going against Bowlby's theory.  This theory is supported by Belsky & Rovine (1987) who found that infants in their first few days of life display characteristics that match their later attachment types e.g. calmer and less anxious infants went on to form secure attachments.
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Bowlby's Original Stage Theory (1969):

0-2 MONTHS:  Pre-attachment Stage:  

No preference for specific adults.

2-7 MONTHS:Early Stages of Attachment:

Seeks out one person, usually mother, in relation to smiling, feeding, talking etc.

7-24 MONTHS:  Well Defined Attachment:

Wary of strangers; does not like separation from key attachment figure.

24+ MONTHS:  Reciprocal Relationships:

Two-way relationships begin to emerge, based on the different needs of child and caregiver.

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