Edexcel A2 Psychology - Bowlby's theory of attachment and maternal deprivation

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  • Created by: Ally
  • Created on: 22-04-13 11:48


  • Bowlby wrote a report for the World Health Organisation highlighting the importance of the attachment figure (mother) and how if they are not present during a child's critical period, it can have adverse effects on that child.
  • If the mother-child was broken during the critical period, this would lead to lead to problems with social, emotional and intellectual development; this is called the maternal deprivation hypothesis.
  • Bowlby suggested that such problems, caused by maternal deprivation, were irreversible, they could not be put right.
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  • Attachment refers to the warm, continuous, loving relationship between an attachment figure and child, which provides a 'safe and secure base' from which the child can explore from.
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Social Releasers...

  • Children are born with an adaptive ability to peform social releasers to ensure that the attachment is created and formed as the attachment figure has to react to the needs of the child. Humans are hardwired to respond to these needs. These social releasers can come in two different forms, physical and emotional.
  • These social releases could be, for example, the child crying, smiling, crawling, chubby cheeks, etc
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Critical Period...

  • Bowlby suggested that there was a 'critical period' for children to form an attachment with their attachment figure. This was the only period where the attachment could be formed, if it was not formed during this time, then it could never be formed, according to Bowlby.
  • This critical period is believed between birth and two and a half years old (0 - 30 months)
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  • Bowlby argues that infants form a single special attachment with one primary attachment figure, usually the mother. This is called monotropy (moving towards one). Other attachments may develop in a hierarchy below this. An child may therefore have a primary monotropy attachment to its mother, and below her the hierarchy of attachments may include its father, siblings, grandparents, etc.
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Internal Working Model...

  • A key feature of Bowlby’s evolutionary theory of attachment is that the attachment style formed as an infant provides the infant with an internal working model of relationships, and that in turn guides relationship behaviour as an older child and adult.
  • A secure child will develop a positive internal working model of itself because it has received sensitive emotional care from its primary attachment figure. An insecure-avoidant child will develop an internal working model in which it sees itself as unworthy because its primary attachment figure has reacted negatively to it during the sensitive period for attachment formation.
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