Bowlby's Theory of Maternal Deprivation


Maternal Deprivation Theory

The maternal deprivation theory focuses on how the effects of early experiences may interfere with the usual process of attachment formation. 

Bowlby proposed that separation from the mother or mother-substitute has a serious effect on psychological development.

Being separated from a mother in early childhood can have serious consequences, according to Bowlby.

1 of 4

Definition of Maternal Deprivation

The emotional and intellectual consequences of separation between a child and their mother or mother-substitute.

Bowlby proposed that continuous care from a mother is essential for normal psychological development, and that prolonged separation from this adult causes serious damage to emotional and intellectual development.

Bowlby emphasised the importance of the critical period. He stated that if, during the critical period, a child was deprived of emotional care for a long period of time, this could lead to psychological damage.

2 of 4

Evaluation of Maternal Deprivation Theory

+ Further research has supported Bowlby's Maternal Deprivation Theory. For example, Goldfarb (1955) followed up 30 war orphaned children to age 12. Of his original sample, half had been fostered by the age of 4 whilst the other half remained in the orphanage. At the age of 12, both groups of orphans' IQ was tested. The group that was fostered had an average IQ of 96, whereas the group that wasn't fostered by the age of 4 had an average IQ of 68. This is a strength because Goldfarb's findings reiterate the main assumptions of Bowlby's theory, showing that early separation and the deprivation can lead to long-lasting effects on infant development and development in later life.

- However, Bowlby's findings from the 44 thieves study can be criticised for investigator bias. For example, other psychologists have suggested that Bowlby's study had some major design flaws and most importantly, bias. Bowlby himself carried out the investigation, the individual assessments for affectionless psychopathology, and the family interviews, knowing what he hoped to find. Developmental psychologists have suggested that Bowlby may have interpreted the findings in a biased way in order to generate support for his theory. This is problematic because, if Bowlby's findings have been affected by investigator bias, this will mean that his theory is based on biased results and therefore can be criticised as being inaccurate.

3 of 4

Evaluation of Maternal Deprivation Theory (cont.)

- Research from Lewis (1954) challenges Bowlby's findings into maternal deprivation. For example, Lewis partially replicated Bowlby's 44 thieves study on a larger scale, looking at 500 young people. In her sample, a history of prolonged separation from the mother did not predict criminality or difficulty in forming close relationships. This is a problem for the theory of maternal deprivation because it suggests that other factors may affect the outcome of early maternal deprivation.

4 of 4


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Attachment resources »