Explanations of attachment

  • Created by: Ellie
  • Created on: 08-05-15 20:01

Learning theory - AO1

- Attachment is learned through classical and operant conditioning:

1. Classical conditioning - food (UCS) produces pleasure (UCR). The mother is associated with the pleasure and becomes a conditioned stimulus.

2. Operant conditioning - infant is uncomfortable when hungry and experiences a drive state. Mother feeds the infant and the food satisfies their hunger and lessens the discomfort (drive reduction.) Mother is associated with food and becomes a secondary reinforcer. Infant becomes attached to mother because she is a source of reward. 

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Bowlby's evolutionary theory - AO1

- Attachment is needed for survival:

1. Innate programming - we have evolved to form an attachment to our primary caregiver because it increases our chances of survival (food, protection)

2. Critical period - attachments must be formed before the age of 2½ years, as you will be unable to form any attachment after this point. 

3. Continuity hypothesis - one special attachment (monotropy) provides the infant with an internal working model of relationships. The quality of this attachment will influence the quality of their later relationships. 

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Learning theory - AO2


Schaffer and Emerson: wrong to suggest an infant's strongest attachment will be to the person that feeds them. Observed 60 infants and found that many didn't have the strongest attachment to their mother, but to those who played and interacted with them the most. 

Harlow and Harlow: infant monkeys removed from mothers and placed in a cage with two wire mesh 'mothers.' One mother provided food but no comfort, the other provided comfort but no food. Spent most of their time on the mother that provided comfort, suggesting comfort needs override the need for food. Long term damage caused, cannot make generalisations to human infants. 

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Bowlby's evolutionary theory - AO2

Research support

- Lorenz: studied imprinting in goslings (attach to first moving object they see, usually the mother.) Goslings taken away from mother imprinted on Lorenz because he was the first thing they saw. The 'following around' supports idea that attachment has survival value.

- Hazan and Shaver: published a 'love quiz' collecting information about early attachment experiences and attitudes towards romance. Found individuals who were securely attached infants tended to have happy and lasting love relationships, but insecure types found relationships difficult and were more likely to be divorced. This supports the idea of the continuity hypothesis. 


- Thomas: suggests monotropy may not be universally true e.g. in Caribbean cultures multiple attachments are the norm. Multiple attachments might be more beneficial for psychological development. Several studies of different cultures have found infants still usually have one primary attachment, suggesting monotropy is not incorrect. 

Rutter et al : studied infants who has been raised in institutions in Eastern Europe prior to adoption. They found that these children could form attachments with their adoptive parents even after they had reached 2½ years of age. This challenges the critical period hypothesis. 

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