Developmental Approach

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Explanations of Attachment

Attachment: "a close emotional relationship between infants and their caregivers"

Behavioural Theory

  • Classical Conditioning
    Learning by associations between things in the environment. food gives baby pleasure, desire for food fulfilled when move is around to feed it. Association formed between mother and food. when mother around, baby feels pleasure.
  • Operant Conditioning.
    Learning through reinforcement or punishment, Dollar and Miller (1950), Babies feel discomfort when hungry, food removes discomfort, when baby cries mother feeds baby, removing discomfort (negative reinforcement). mother associated with food and baby wants to be closer to her.
  • Ethological Approach
    The study of animals in their natural environment.
    Konrad Lorenz (1935) found geese automatically imprint on first moving thing they saw.
  • Impringint occurs during critical period normally a few hours after hatching.
  • Attachments take longer in humans, neither is it automatic, quality of attachment more important
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Harlow (1959) study on comfort and attachment.

Schafffer and Emerson (1964)- many babies dont form strong attachments with mothers. 
Good quality interaction with baby more important.


  • Aimed to find if baby monekys prefer source of food or of comfort/protection for attachment.
    Laboratory experiment, rhesus monekys raised in isolation with two surrogate mothers.
    One made of wire mesh with feeding bottle, other cloth but no feeding bottle.


  • Monkeys spent more time with cloth surrogate, wire only for feeding. Cloth provided comfort in new situations. Monkeys showed social and emotional disturbance signs when grown up. Females were bad mothers often violent towards offspring.


  • Infant monkeys formed more attachment to figure that provided comfort/protection.Growing up in Isolation affected their development
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Harlow (1959) study on comfort and attachment eval

Harlow study on rhesus Monkeys.

Positive evaluation

  • Laboratory experiment meant strict control of variables, unlikely results affected by confounding variables. 
  • Findings of study has real life application, Human babies in incubators now given soft blankets.
  • Humans and Monkeys similar socialy, possible to study monkeys but not humans.

Negative evaluation

  • Results can't be generalised to humans as humans and monnkeys are qualitatively different.
  • Ethincal problems, monekys put in stressful situations. showed signs of being psychologically damaged by experiment.
  • Monkeys kept in isolation and not in their natural environment so the study lacks ecological validity.
  • Study can't be replicated due to current ethical guidelines in place.
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John Bowlby's Evolutionary Theory.

Bowlby (1951) argued something similar to imprinting occurs in humans.

  • We have evolved boilogical need for attachment to main caregiver.AKA monotropy. attachment has survival value, staying close to mother ensures food and protection.
  • Strong attachment provides a Safe base giving us confidence to explore our environment.
  • Provides us with a template for future relationships, An internal working model.
  • First three years of life act as critical period for attachment to develop.
  • If no attachment develops (E.g. seperation or death of caregiver) or is broken, may seriously effect the child's social and emotional development.

Evaluation on Theory
Evidence for claims comes from Harlow's study. supports idea that we have evolved a need to attach to comfort figure and social and emotional development may be damaged if not formed.

  • Schaffer and Emerson (1964) evidence against Bowlbys montropy claims. Found children form multiple attachments and not just to their mother.
  • Harlow's study of mokeys in isolation goes against montropy. Monkeys without mother but who grew up together show'd no signs of social and emotional disturbance in later life, even without primary caregiver.
  • Mixed evidence for claims for a critical period for attachment to develop.
  • Effect of attachment not developing or breaking may not be as bad as Bowlby claimed.
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Types of Attachment

Secure Attachments

  • There's a strong bond between child and caregiver.
    Infant becomes distressed if they're seperated, but easily comforted when reuinted by caregiver.
    Most attachmetns are of thise type and are associated with a healthy cognitive and emotional development.

Insecure Attachments

  • The bond between child and caregiver is weaker. Ainsworth et al suggested two types of insecure attachment:
  • Insecure-avoidant
    If seperated from caregiver, child doesn't become distressed and can usually be comforted by a stranger, shown by children who generaly avoid social interaction and intamacy with others.
  • Insecure-resistant
    Child is often uneasy around caregiver, but becomes upset if seperated from them. Strangers can't give comfort but child is resistant to caregiber. shown by children who both accept and reject social interaction and intimacy. 
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Ainsworth et al (1978) study on The Strange Situat

Ainsworth used the strange situation to assess how children react under conditions of stress.


  • A controlled observation, 12-18 months infants left in room with mother.
    Eight different scnarios inc. being approached by a stranger, being left alone, mother returning.
    Researcher constantly observed infants reaction.


  • Roughly 15% of infants were insecure-avoidant (type A), they ignored mothers and didn't mind if she left. stranger could comfort them.
  • Roughly 70% were securely attached (type B) content with mother, upset if she left. happy when she returned and avoided strangers.
  • Roughly 15% were insecure-resistant (type C) uneasy around mother and upset if she left, resisted strangers and were hard to comfort on mothers return.


  • Infants showing different reactions to their carers have differnt attachment types.
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Ainsworth et al (1978) study on the strange situat

Ainsworth's study on the strange situation showed infants form different kinds of attachment.

Positive Evaluation

  • Controlled observation method meant confounded/extraneous variables were minimalised making results reliable.
  • Can lead to improvements in social care by ensuring low ratio of nurse to children.

Negative Evaluation

  • Laboratory-type situation made study artifical, reducing ecological valdity.
  • Parents may ave changed their behaviour due to demand characteristics as they knew they were being observed, which could also have an effect on the children's behaviour.
  • New situation in experimnet may have effected children's behaviour, study may not accurately represent their behaviour in real life.
  • Mother may not have been the child's main attachment figure.
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Strange situation cross-cultural study

Ainsworth et al's  findings relevant to USA but not known if it applied to other cultures.
Vab Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) - cross-cultural studies.


  • Carried out meta-analysis of 32 studies of the "strange situation in different countries e.g Japan, Britain, Sweden. Analysed studies to find any overall paterns.


  • Percentage of children classified as secure/insecure were very similar across the countries tested.
    Secure attachments most common type of attachment found. Some differences found in distribution of insecure attachments. Dominant type of secure of insecure attachment in western cultures was avoidant. however in non-Western cultures it was resistant.


  • There are cross-cultural similarities in raising children, producing common reactions to the "strange situation"
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Disruption of Attachment

Attachment can be disrupted by separation or deprivation.

  • Seperation: When child is away from caregiver when duration is relatively short.
  • Deprivation: A lmore long-term or permanent loss is implied.

Major effects of separation 

Several studies show that infants/children who have been sperated from carer react through the PDD stages.
Protest, Despair, Detachment.

  • Protest: During first few hours, child will protest at being seperated from mother, crying, panicking, calling for its mother.
  • Despair: Day/two later child begins to lose interest in surroundings. Becoming withdrawn, with occasional crying.
  • Detachment: After few days, child bcomes more alert and interested in surroundings again. will cry less and seem to have recovered from seperation. However previous attachment with carer may now be permanently damaged, the trust and security lost.
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Robertson and Robertson's (1968) study on PDD mode


  •  Naturalistic observation, several children who experienced short seperations from carers observed and filmed. e.g John 18 months stayed in residential nursey for nine days


  • John showed signs of passing through protest for first two days.
    Then showed Despair trying to get attention from nurses but they were too busy with other children and so he gave up.
    Then showed detachment, was more active and content. Howver, was reluctunat to show affection when his mother came to collect him.


  • Short-term separation had very bad effects on John, including possible permanent damage to his attachment with his mother.
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Robertson and Robertson's (1968) study on PDD mode

R and R's study supports the PDD model as they found short-term seperation had bad effects on John.

Positive evaluation

  • Study took place in natural settings, Results have a higher ecological validity

Negative evaluation

  • Reaction may not be due to seperation but to new environment.
  • Little control of variables.
  • Difficult to replicate each individual situation

Strenghts and Weaknesses of the PPD model.

  • Findings suggest seperating child from carers should be avoided. important implications for childcare practice.
  • Studies have shown children who recieved foster care do better than those placed in institutionalised setting. Children can cioe with serpation with One-on-one emotional support.
  • PDD effects may be due to other factors e.g age and quality of care.
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Bowlby (1953) studied maternal deprivation hypothe

Bowlby's Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis believed that:

Deprivation from main carer during critical period (first 3-5 years) would have harmful effects on a childs emotional, social, intellectual and even physical development.

Long-term effects of deprivation may include separation anxiety leading to problem behaviour.


  • Case studies on 44 adolescents who were referred to Bowlby's clinic for stealing and a control group of 44 emotionally disturbed adolescents who didn't steal.


  • 17 lf tbe tbjeves experienced frequent separations from their mothers before the age of two compared with 2 in the control group. 
    14 diagnosed as affectionless psychopaths 12/14 experienced separation from mothers.


  •  Deprivation of a child from its main carer early in life can have a harmful long-term consequences.
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Bowlby's 44 thieves evaluation and long-term effec

Bowlby's study on the 44 thieves shows the consequences of deprivation to a child in early life by its main caregiver.

Positive evaluation

  • Results indicate a link between deprivation and criminal behaviour.
  • Case studies provide a lot of detailed information.

Negative evaluation

  • Doesn't show a cause and effect. Other factors cause criminal behaviour
  • Study relied on retrospective data which may be unreliable.

Studies by bowlby indicate  that seperation has the following long term effects:

  • Affectionless psychology (seen in 44 thieves study)
  • Anaclitic depression - involving appetite loss, sleeplessness andd impaired social/intellectual development.
  • Deprivation dwarfism - infants are physically underdeveloped due to emotional deprivation.
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Strengths and weaknesses of Maternal Deprivation H


  • Other evidence supports Bowlby's claims. Goldfarb (1943) found that orphanage children who were socially and mentally deprived were later less intellectually and socially developed.


  • Evidence can be criticised: Bowlby linked thieves' behaviour ot maternal deprivation but didn't consider other factors e.g if poverty growing up led them to steal.
  • Children in Goldfarb's study may have been most harmed by the social deprivation in hte orphanage rather than the maternal depriation.

Effects if disruption of attachment can be reversed.

  • Even when deprivation has harmful effects, these may be reversed with appropriate, good quality care.
  • Skeels and Dye (1939) found children who had been socially deprived (in an orphanage) during their first two years of life quickly improved their IQ scores if they were transferred to a school where they got one-to-one care.
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Failure to form attachments the case of Genie.

Maternal privation: When a child has never formed an attachment to tis mother or any caregiver.

Rutter (1981) claimed effects of maternal privation are more likely to be serious than effects of maternal deprivaiton.

Case studies of privation

  • Curtiss (1977) The case of Genie
    Reported case of a girl who suffered extreme cruelty from her parents, never formed any attachments. Father kept her strapped to high chair with a potty in the seat for most of her childhood. She was beaten if she made any sounds, didn't have the chance to play with toys or other children.
  • Discovered at age 13. Physically underdeveloped could only speak with animal-like sounds.
  • After a lot of help she later learned some langauge but her social and intellectual skills never seemed to fully develop.
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Failure to form attachments, The case of the Czech

Koluchova (1976) 

  • Case of twin boys whose mother died soon after birth. Father remarried and stepmother treated them very cruelly. They were kept locked in a cellar, beaten and had no toys. 
  • They were found when they were seven with rickets (bone development disease caused by lack of vitamin D) and very little social or intellectual development.
  • Later adopted and made lots of progress. By adulthood they had above average intelligence and had normal social relationships.

Differences between the Czech boys and Genie

  • The length of privation and how old the children were when discovered - Czech twins much younger so had more time to develop once in a better environment.
  • Their experiences during isolation - Twins kept together, may have attached to each other.
  • The quality of care received after the isolation - Twins were adopted, but Genie passed between psychologists and eventually put in an institution.
  • Individual differences, including ability to recover.

Evidence suggests that recovery from privation is possible. However lack of information about what children experienced means we can't be certain why the twins recovered better.

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limitations to evidence provided by case studies

  • Children didn't only suffer maternal privation - Also had litle bsocial and intellectual stimulation and were generally treated badly, all these factors must be taken into acount when looking at their development.
  • Problems generalising findings because they only focus on individual cases.
  • The case studies showed mixed results for how children can recover from privaiton erly in life. 
  • More controlled, scientific evidence  is needed. but would be ethically wrong to put children in situations of privation. 
  • Some studies of children raised in institutions (Hodges and Tizard) provided evidence of the effects of privation, although we still can't be sure of the reasons behind these effects.
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The long-term effects of privaiton

Privation will damage a childs developmen, how much depends on several factors e.g age. Children can recover to some extent but some effects might be permanent.

Reactive attachment disorder - Parker and Forrest (1993)
Parker and Forrest outlined this rare but serious condition, children permanently damaged by early experiences such as privation.  
An inability to give or receive affection.
Poor social relationships.
Involvement in crime. 

The cycle of privation

Studies suggest that children who experience privaiton go on to have difficulties caring for their own children.

  • Quinton et al (1985) - Compared to 50 women whp experienced instituional care as children with 50 who hadn't. Found women raised in institution more likely have have parenting difficulties. Children who experienced privation later become less caring parents.
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Hodges and Tizard (1989) on early institutional ca


  • A longitudinal study of 65 children placed ina a residential nursery before they were four months old.
    They hadn't had opportunity to form close attachments with any caregivers.
    By age of four some children had returned to birth mothers, some adopted and some stayed in the nursery.


  • At 16 years old, adopted group had strong family relationships, however compared to control group of children from "normal environments, had weaker peer relationships.
    Those who stayed in nursery or returned to their mothers showed poorer relationships with family and peers than those adopted.


  • Children can recover from early maternal privaiton if they are in a good quality, loving environment, although social development may not be as good as other children.
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Hodges and Tizard (1989) study on early instituion

Hodges and Tizard found that children can recover from early maternal deprivaiton with good care.

Positive evaluation

  • A natural experiment so has high ecological validity.
  • Supported by Rutter et al (1998) who studied 111 romanian orphans adopted by British familes before they were two years old. Development was compared to control group of British children.
    Initialy below development, but by four years their development had caught up.
    Supports finding that children can recover from deprivation with good quality care.

Negative evaluation

  • Small sample size (65 children) means results are hard to generalise the results to the rest of the population.
  • Results are made less reliable as more than 20 children couldn't be found at the end of the study. 
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Clarke-Stewart et al (1994) positive effects of da


  • Several separate observations to examine the effects of day care. One experiment looked at peer relationships of 150 children aged 2-3 years from different social backgrounds. Another experiment, the strength of attachment in a group of 18-month old children, who had at least 30 hours day care per week. The "strange situation" was used and results compared with those of children who had "low intensity" day care (less than 10 hours)


  • 2-3 year olds who had experienced day care were goot at coping with social situations and negotiating with each other. In the "strange situation" experiment, the 18 month olds who had high intensity day care were just as distressed when separated from mothers as those who had low intensity day care.


  • Day care can have a positive effect on the development of peer relationships in 2-3 year olds. Attachment in 18 month olds isn't affected by temporary separation.
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Shea (1981) positive effects of day care


  • Infants between 3-4 were videotaped in the playground during first 10 weeks at nursey. Behaviour was assessed in terms of rough and tunbple play, aggression, frequency of peer interaction, distance from teracher, distance from nearest child.


  • Over 10 weeks children's peer interaction increased and distance from the teacher decreased. Found a decrease in aggression and an increase in rough and tumble play. The increase of sociability was more evident in children who attended 5 days a week than those for two days a week

Day care caused children to become more socialable and less aggressive

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Belsky and ROvine (1988) negative effects of day c


  • Infants placed in the "strange situation" to asses how secure their attachments with their mothers were. One group had experienced no day care, another had experienced at least 20 hours per week before their first birthday.


  • Infants who received day care were more likely to have an insecure attachment type. Either insecure-avoidant (type A) or insecure resistant (type C) those who hadn't had day care were morel ikely to be securely attached


Day care has a negative effect on an infants social development.

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Clarke-Stewart et al

  • Observations were controlled so study can be easily replicated.
  • Situation was artifical so study lacks ecological validity and results can't be generalised.


  • A naturalistic observation study has high ecological validity as no behaviour manipulated.
  • Results could have been affected by extraneous variables
  • Behaviour was open to interpretation, findings could be biased.

Belsky and Rovine (1988)

  • "Strange situation" is a controlled observation, good control of variables
  • Study lacks ecological validity as it creates an artificial situation
  • DiLalla (1998) also found negative effects on children's peer relationships - The more day care the children had, the less prosocially they behaved. i.e. they helped/shared less.
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Research for day care varies widely

  • Studies focus on slightly different things (e.g quality of care, age of child) and use different samples.
  • There are methodological problems with the studies that might lead to inconsistent results.
    Clarke-Stewart admited the "strange situation" isn't a good way to asses attachment in infants who have day care. They're used to temporay separation so might respond indiferently and be wrongly classed as insecure.
  • All these studies rely on correlations so it isn't possible to establish a cause and effect.
  • Studies don't take individual differences like temperament into account.

Research has affected day care practices

Research has influenced decisions about hwat might be best for children in day care. Scarr (1998)  identified several factors that make a good day care.

  • Good staff training and ratio of staff to children with minimal staff turnover so Children can form stable attachments wtih carers.
  • Adequate space with enough toys and activities.
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