Explanations of Attachment

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  • Created by: Grace
  • Created on: 14-04-14 16:04

Harlow - The Need for 'Contact Comfort'

Method: Harlow aimed to find out whether baby monkeys would prefer a source of food or a source of comfort and protection as an attachment figure. In laboratory experiments rhesus monkeys were raised in isolation. The had 2 'surrogate' mothers. One was made of wire mesh and contained a feeding bottle, the other was made of cloth but didn't contain a feeding bottle.

Results: The monkeys spent most of their time clinging to the cloth surrogate and only used the wire surrogate to feed. The cloth surrogate seemed to give them comfort in new situations. When the monkeys grew up they showed signs of social and emotional disturbance. The females were bad mothers who were often violent towards their offspring.

Conclusion: Infant monkeys form more of an attachment with a figure that provided comfort and protection. Growing up in isolation affected their development

Evaluation: Was a laboratory experiment, so there was strict control of variables, unlikely the results were affected by an unknown variable. You can't generalise the results of this study with humans because humans and monkeys are qualitatively different. There were also ethical problems with this study - the monkeys were put in a stressful situation, and later showed signs of being psychologically damaged by the experiment. The fact that they were in isolation also means the study lacked ecological validity - the monkeys weren't in their natural environment so results can't be reliable applied to real life.

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Bowlby's Evolutionary Theory

Bowlby argued that something like imprinting occurs in humans. He developed several main claims:

1) We have evolved a biological need to attach to our main caregiver - usually our biological mother. Having one special attachment is called monotopy. Forming this attachment has survival value as staying close to the mother ensures food and protection.

2) A strong attachment provides a 'safe base', giving us confidence to explore our environment.

3) It also gives us a 'template' for all future relationships - we learm to trust and care for others.

4) The first 3 years of life are the critical period for this attachment to develop - otherwise it might never do so.

5) If the attachment doesn't develop (e.g. because of seperation or death), or if it's broken, it might seriously damage the child's social and emotional development.

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