Developmental Psychology

Notes for revision on developmental psychology

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Evolutionary Perspective: Bowlby's Theory

  • Attachment is adaptive and innate, related to imprinting (for survival).
  • Sensitive period for development of attachment, as with all biological systems.
  • Caregiving is also innate and adaptive, aided by social releasers.
  • Secure base provided for exploration.
  • Primary attachment mosti important (monotropy) but secondary attachments also important.
  • Internal working model develops based on primary attachment relationship.
  • Continuity hypothesis - link between early attachment & later social/emotional development.

Strengths = imprinting in animals (e.g. lorenz), sensitive period (rutter et al), universaility of attachment (tronick et al), monotropy: primary attachments (shaffer & emerson), caregiver sensitivity (harlow) & continuity hypothesis (sroufe et al)

Weaknesses = Other attachments important, e.g. father and siblings, but still may be primary & secondary attachments AND temperament hypothesis offers an alternative explanation, supported by Belsky & Rovine.

  • Individual Differences = Different types of attachment - secure & insecure.
  • Cultural Variations = Attachment may lead to dependance rather than independance in some cultures.
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Learning Theory

  • All behaviour is learned.
  • Classical conditioning - food produces pleasure 'feeder' (mother) associated with food so also produces pleasure. (Ivan Pavlov)
  • Operant conditioning - food is a primary reinforcer, 'feeder' becomes secondary reinforcer. (Dollard & Miller suggest that a hungry infant feels uncomfortable & this creates a drive to reduce discomfort.)
  • Both reduce discomfort and are rewarding.

Strengths = we do learn through conditioning, although food is not the only factor (attention and responsiveness also important)

Weakness = Harlow showed that food is less important than contact comfort supported by Emerson (1964) who found infants most attached to adult who fed them.

Validity = Largely animal studies.

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Privation (failure to form attachment)

Case studies of isolated children = Genie & Czech twins, not reliable evidence.

Insitutional Care = Skeels & Dye, Bowlby et al: recovery possible; hodges & Tizard - all ex-instituional children had difficulties coping with peers, despite good substitute care in some cases; rutter et al - romanian orphans adopted early showed normal emotional development; those adopted after six months showed disinhibited attachment and had peer difficulties.

Effects = Attachment disorder - now recognised on DSM, reactive (inhibited) or disinhibited; poor parenting - quinton et al followed ex-institutional women, found most experienced difficulties as parents; deprivation dwarfism - gardner.

Evaluation =

  • Privation alone can't explain poor outcome - cumulative effect of risk factors e.g. insecure attachment, lack of sensitivity.
  • Research questionable because can't be sure what attachments had formed, nor have sufficient long-term studies been conducted.
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Day Care

  • Negative effects on social development:
  • Long - term maladjustment - Bowlby's claim, supported by Violata & Russell.
  • Increased aggressiveness shown in NICHD study, also disobedience and assertiveness; Melhuish also found increased risk in UK sample.
  • Peer relations - day care children less likely to be securely attached (Belsky & Rovine) and this is linked to pooer peer relations (Sroufe et al).
  • Positive effects on social development:
  • Good day care provides social stimulation; children at home may feel more isolated, mothers may be depressed ( Brown & Harris).
  • More advanced social development - Clarke-Stewart et al and Sylva et al, also found more independence and compliance.
  • Peer relations - day care children had more friends at school (Field), negotiated better with peers and were more sociable.

Weaknesses - Some studies have found no link with aggression, day-care children may be more aggressive than non-day care but 83% were not aggressive at all (Friedman). Mother's sensitivity and home factors are a better predictor of aggressiveness (Belsky). Data is correlational, not causal. Many studies have found no effects.

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Implications of Day Care

Implications of attachment research:

  • Visiting arrangements for children in hospital
  • Adoptions: Avoiding late adoptions.
  • Parenting - e.g. circle of security to improve maternal sensitivity
  • Improvinsg day care quality. e.g. soho family centre focuses on role of secondary attachment figures.

Implications of day-care research:

  • Improve quality througL: low child-to-staff ratios 3:1. Minimal staff turnover - constistency of care. Sensitive emotional care - only 20% provide highly sensitive care. Qualified staff.
  • Quality monitored by Sure Start and NESS.
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Types of Attachment

  • Ainsworth's early studies in Uganda & Baltimore - showed importance of secure attachment and sensitive responsiveness.
  • Strange Situation - assessed response to mild stress, separation and stranger anxiety.
  • Secure attachment (62%)
  • Insecure-avoidant (15%)
  • Insecure-resistant (9%)

Validity = Measures a particular relationship not an individual - e.g. main & weston evidence with father. But primary attachment creates attachment type - Bowlby. Construct validity demonstrated by research support for 3 types. Predictive validity demonstrated e.g. Hazan & Shaver (love quiz).

Reliability = High inter-rater reliability (.94) in strange situation.

Effects = Longitudinal studies show continuities e.g. secure attachment --> positive outcomes. Love quiz (Hazan & Shaver) looked at adult romantic styles.

Contributory Factors = Sensitivity, Maternal reflective functioning, temperament.

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Cultural Variations

  • Similarities - ainsworth (uganda) & tronick et al (the efe).
  • Differences - insecure attachments, Grossmann and Grossmann (german interpersonal distance), Takahasi (japanese dependence).
  • On balance research supports monotropy, although distinct cultural differences.
  • Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg - meta analysis, global patterns of attachment similar suggesting attachment is innate, biology process.

Culture bias = Attachment theory rooted in us culture: sensitivity hypothesis, continuity hypothesis and secure base are all related to western ideals. Should instead create a set of indigenous theories. However, core attachment concepts may be universal, e.g. evidence from other countries.

Other criticisms = nations versus culture

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Disruption of Attachment

  • Spitz & Wolf - severe depression in infants after being placed in a institution.
  • Skeels & Dye - Intellectuals deficits recovered when institutionalised children given extra emotional care.
  • Bohman & Sigvardsson - adopted 'problem' children showed good recovery.
  • Bifulco et al - women who lost mothers were more likely to become depressed.


  • Early emotional deprivation can harm early social/emotional development.
  • But substitute emotional care can compensate.
  • But individual may be vulnerable to emotional disorders.

Validity = High validity because naturalistic studies. & Low validity because case studies with unique characteristics.

Individual Differences = Securely attached children cope better (Bowlby et al)

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