Disruption of Attachment

HideShow resource information

Disrupted by Separation or Deprivation

Seperation is where a child is away from a caregiver they're attached to. The term's used when it's a relatively short time, just hours or days - not a longer or permanent separation.

Deprivation describes the loss of something that is wanted or needed. So 'maternal deprivation' is the loss of the mother. A more long-term or even permanent loss is implied.

1 of 8

Bowlby (1953)

Bowlby (1953) studied long-term deprivation from an attachment fihure could be harmful. He produced his maternal deprivation hypothesis:

Deprivation from main carer during the critical period will have harmful effects on a child's emtional, social, intellectual and physical development.

Long-term effects of deprivation may include seperation anxiety. This may lead to problem behaviour. Future relationships may be affected by this emotional insecurity. Bowlby's research showed evidence for this.

2 of 8

Bowlby (1944) - The 44 juvenile thieves


  • Case studies were completed on the backgrounds of 44 adolescens who had been referred to the clinic where Bowlby worked because they'd been stealing. 
  • There was a control group of 44 'emotionally disturbed' adolescents who didn't steal.


  • 17 of the thieves had experienced frequent seperations from their mothers before the age of two, compared with 2 in the control group.
  • 14 of the thieves were diagnosed as 'affectionless psychopaths'.
  • 12 of these 14 had experienced seperation from their mothers.


  • Deprivation of the child from its main carer early in life an have very harmful long-term consequences.
3 of 8

Bowlby (1944) - The 44 juvenile thieves


  • The results indicate a link between deprivation and criminal behaviour. However, it can't be said that one causes another.
  • There may be other factors that caused the criminal behaviour.
  • Although case studies provide a lot of detailed information, the study relied on retrospective data, which may be unreliable.
4 of 8

Maternal Deprivation from Separation studies

Robertson and Robertson (1968) - A separation study


  • Naturalistic observation, several children who experienced short seperations from their carers were observed and filmed.
  • For example, a boy called John aged around 18 months stayed in a residential nursery for nine days while his mother had another baby.


  • For the first day or two, John protested at being seperated from his mother. 
  • He then started trying to get attention from the nurses, but they were bust with other children so he gave up trying.
  • After another few days, he began to show signs of detachment - he was more active and content than he had been perviously at the nursery.
  • But, when his mother came to collect him, he was reluctant to be affectionate.
5 of 8

Maternal Deprivation from Separation studies


  • The short-term seperation had very bad effects on John, inclusing possible permanent damage to his attachment with his mother.


  • John's reaction might not have been due to seperation - it could be down to is new environment or the fact that he was getting much less attention than he was used to.
  • There will have been little control of variables, and it would be difficult to replicate each individual situation. 
  • However, as the study took place in a nautral setting, the results will have ecological validity but will be less reliable.
6 of 8

Maternal Deprivation evaluation


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


  • The evidence can be criticised. Bowlby linked the thieves' behaviour to maternal deprivation, but other things were not considered, e.g. whether the poverty they grew up in led them to steal.
  • The children in Goldfarb's study may have been most harmed by the social deprivation in the orphanage rather than the maternal deprivation.
7 of 8

The effects of disruption can be reversed

On of Bowlby's assumptions of his maternal deprivation hypothesis was that the consequences were not reversible. However, further research has shown that even deprivation has harmful effects, these may be reversed with appropriate, good-quality care.

Skeets and Dye (1939) found that children who had been socially deprived 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.

Koluchova (1976) - Case of the Czech Twin Boys

This is the case of twin boys whose mother died soon after they were born. Their father remarried and their stepmother treated them very cruelly. They were often kept locked in a cellar, had no toys and were often beaten.

They were found when they were 7 with rickets, and very little social or intellectual development.

They were later adopted and made much progress. By adulthood they had about average IQ and had normal social realtionships

8 of 8


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Attachment resources »