Privation, deprivation and the consequences

Privation and deprivation psychology cards for revision


The definintions

  • Privation means, in relation to social development, the absence of any meaningful social experiences and/or the absence of any attachment relationship with an adult.
  • Deprivation means, in relation to social development, the removal of previous social experiences, or people to whom the child is attached.
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Deprivation is having an attachment then losing it. This may happen after events such as, the death of a parent, divorce or being adopted or put in care.

Research into deprivation began in the Second World War, when concerns were sparked over the effects of the children being evacuated, or a parent's death. In research, a distinction was made between short-term consequences (over days or weeks) and long-term consequences (over years).

There was also concern over the treatment of children in institutions, as it was said they lacked sensitivity. This could range from a restriction of visiting hours to a complete ban on family contact. These circumstances were relatively common, and therefore many studies could be conducted that couldn't be carried out today, and the findings from this research helped provide a basis for many changes.

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Key study: Robertson and Bowlby (1952)

AIM: To describe the short term reactions to seperation from the child's mother

METHOD: 49 children aged between 1 and 4 years were observed when seperated from their mothers

RESULTS: The following sequence of reactions was observed:

  • Protest, immediate acute distress and crying on seperation
  • Despair, misery and apathy
  • Detachment and apparent recovery, yet this sometimes involved the rejection of parents

CONC: Acute distress can result from seperation and these reactions follow a predictable sequence

EVAL: These observations have been replicated in a number of other investigations and provide a well-documeted description of the way that children cope with these distressing circumstances.

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Children typically go through protest-despair-detachment when they are seperated from their caregiver: the child will protest at the seperation and will try to maintain proximity with the caregiver, they will then appear calmer but may cry quietly and appear very unhappy (despair), and eventually, as the seperation continues, the child will detach - showing little emotion towards others and being apparently unconcerned. If the attachment figure returns the child often rejects them at treats them as if they are a stranger.

Robertson and Robertson presented a number of films that showed protest-despair-detachment, and illustrated the short-term effects that seperation can have on children, and this had a significant impact on the way health and childcare staff viewed children's needs in times of seperation.

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Schaffer (1996)

Children aged 7months to 3years are most vunerable, however Schaffer identified other characteristics that predispose children to suffer more in seperation situations.

  • Males are found to suffer more in early childhood, but females suffer more in adolesence.
  • If the child has a 'difficult' temperament
  • If the child has a history of family conflict
  • If the parents are psychologically unavaliable
  • If the child doesn't act on emotions
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Robertson and Robertson (1971)

James and Joyce Robertson showed that these reactions could be prevented

They fostered four children and ensured that each child visited their home before seperation.

On seperation, the children took photographs, favourite toys and blankets with them, and their usual routine was maintained.

Another nine children were observed staying in their home with a relative when their mother went to hospital.

None of the children showed the acute distress of protest, despair or detachment.

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Longer term effects of deprivation

The long term consequences are difficult to determine because other variables may influence the child's behaviour.

One suggestion is that there may be fear that seperation will occur again. This may be seen as increased clinging, aggression towards the carer and physical stress related actions.

In adulthood, seperation anxiety may result in a general fear of abandonment or insecurity in relationships, making it difficult to trust others. One of the most common forms of seperation in adulthood is divorce. Studies of children of divorced parents show some negative life outcomes (eg, lower academic achievement and a higher incidence of delinquency.)

However, such data is correlational and therefore doesn't determine that children of divorced parents always suffer negative effects.

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Some factors can help reduce the effects of divorce-related seperations:

  • Regular contact with absent parent
  • Reduce parental conflict
  • Avoidance of further disruption (eg, moving schools)
  • Maintaining lifestyle
  • Positive relationship with step-parents
  • Behaviour of person who has custody (such as providing emotional stability)

Not all children are affected by such seperations - many find ways of coping. Eg, Jenkins et al (1989) found that a common coping strategy for children of divorced parents is increasing their contact with siblings and friends.

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The maternal deprivation hypothesis

Bowlby (1953) predicted that there are negative effects on social and cognitive development if children are deprived of contact with their mother when the first attachments are being formed (from about 6 - 36 months).

Bowlby believed this could result in impairments in the ablility to form later relationships, and even delinquency.

He developed this hypothesis due to his findings on a study of delinquent boys in London.

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Bowlby (1946)

AIM: to look for a link between seperation and emotional maladjustment

METHOD: interviews were carried out with 44 young delinquents of their behaviour and early childhood. Interviews were also carried out with their families. Bowlby used a control group of non-delinquents with emotional problems as a comparison.

RESULTS: Prolonged seperation before 2 years was found to be associated with 'affectionless psychopathology' (an inability to form relationships and a disregard for the feelings of others). Out of 14 affectionless psychopaths, 12 had been seperated from their mothers for a long time in the first 2 years of life. Only 5 who were not affectionless psychopaths had been similarly seperated at a young age. Out of the control group, only 2 individuals had been seperated for any prolonged period.

CONC: Bowlby concluded that prolonged seperations resulted in affectionless psychopathology. This conclusion provided a basis for his maternal deprivation hypothesis.

EVAL: There could be researcher bias, as it was Bowlby which carried out the study. Affectionless psychopathology hasn't ben recognised as a condition. Cause cannot be established and Bowlby's methodology has been criticised, such as his poor control group, unrepresentative delinquent sample and his unreliable methods of assesment. There is also no evidence to suggest that psychological damage resulting from early maternal deprivation is irreversible.

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Rutter (1972)

Rutter argued that Bowlby was incorrect to link antisocial behaviour to seperation from their mother. His own research indicated that the stress and chaotic lifestyle of some families were more likely to be associated with the long term negative effects.

Therefore, antisocial behaviour is associated with maternal deprivation, not becuase of the seperation itself, but because of the stress and arguments that caused the seperation in the first place.

Rutter also stated that a child's bond with their mother is not necessarily different from their bond with other people.

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Quinton and Rutter (1976)

(This could be used as an AO2 study!)

AIM: to investigate the long term effects of seperations to test Bowlby's ideas about maternal deprivation.

METHOD: 451 children in the UK, who had experienced hospital admissions took part. When they were 10, questionnaires were given to their teachers, and their mothers were interviewed.

RESULTS: Single hospital seperations lasting a week or less were not found to be associated with later psychological disturbance. However, if there were repeated seperations, then children were at increased risk for psycholgical disturbances, particularly if the children came from disadvantaged families. It also is important to note that 60% of children who experienced repeated hospital admissions didn't appear to have later emotional disturbances.

CONC: No evidence was found to support Bowlby's maternal deprivation hypothesis

EVAL: This was an influential and well designed study which undermined Bowlby's ideas

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Privation - Harlow

Harlow's monkeys suffered privation, as they were isolated from their mother and raised alone in impoverished conditions.

These monkeys were terrified when later introduced to other monkeys, often cowering, rocking and biting themselves, sometimes being very aggressive and unable to form attachments.

Later research revealed that these negative effects could be reduced by housing a younger, 'therapist' monkey with the isolated monkey.

The two monkeys would cling to one another, and this appeared to help reduce later problems (Suomi and Harlow, 1972). Thus, the effects of privation could be modified by supportive experiences.

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Privation - Genie

Research on privation is based on case studies. This is because privation is extremely disturbing and psychologically scarring and it would be very unethical to place somebody in such a situation. 

Genie was isolated by her parents in their home, only being given a minimum of food and there was virtually no communication directed at her.

When she was discovered, at 13, she was severly malnourished, couldn't speak and was in a pitiful state (Curtiss, 1977).

Despite best efforts, little progress was made in her social or cognitive development. However, we need to be careful what we draw from such studies, as it is possible that Genie had learning difficulties before she was isolated, so it is impossible to know whether privation caused her difficulties.

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In contrast to Genie, there has been some case studies of other children that suffered privation and recovered remarkably, if they had a close relationship with another person

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The Koulchova Twins (1976)

AIM: To investigate the recovery of twins who had suffered extreme privation

METHOD: It was a case study of identical twins found in Czechoslovakia at 7 years old. They had been kept together in a small, unheated cellar. Experiences were documented by talking to the twins and other individuals.

RESULTS: the twin's mother had died soon after giving birth, so they had been sent to a children's home for 11 months. They then spent 6 months with their aunt and then returned to their father and his new wife, who isolated and maltreated the twins. On discovery, the twins were malnourished and very fearful, speech was also very poor. Despite all of this the twins made a remarkable recovery and are now well-adjusted and cognitivley able adults.

CONC: There can be remarkable recovery from extreme privation (unlike Genie. This may support the idea that Genie had psychological problems prior to privation - cause and effect. However, Genie had many different attachment figures, whilst the twins had only one main attachment figure whom helped them recover.)

EVAL: Findings bare importance in showing the resilience of children, but it is difficult to be sure about the factors that enabled recovery.

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Privation - the effects of institutions

Hodges and Tizard (1989)

AIM: To investigate the effects of adoption on children who have been in residential care

METHOD: 26 children who had been in care before 4 took part. Their care had been impersonal as staff regularly changed, and, as a result, these children should, according to Bowlby's hypothesis, be at risk for later developmental difficulties. The children were adopted when older, and were seen at 6 and 16 years.

RESULTS: The children were not found to have major difficulties. The only difficulties reported were slight problems with relationships, being overfriendly to strangers and sometimes seen at school as being aggressive and unpopular. However, most had good relationships with their adopted parents and didn't show the severe effects predicted by Bowlby.

CONC: institutional care does not always have an adverse effect on development

EVAL: The study appears to show the lack of effects of institutionalisation. However, there has been criticisms (eg, it is possible that families who had difficulties dropped out of the study, and so the results could be biased.

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Romanian orphan studies

In the 1990s, the world became aware of the severe conditions in Romanian orphanages. Large numbers of children were kept in inhumane conditions, they were malnourished, they had no toys and they experienced minimal social contact. 

Following an international outcry, many children were moved to enriched environments and were adopted in the UK and other countries.

Their progress was followed by Michael Rutter

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Rutter et al (1998)

AIM: investigated the progress of 111 Romanian orphans brought to Britian for adoption. These children had been raised in poor institutions, with little chance to develop attachments.

METHOD: Romanian children were assesed for height head circumference and general cognitive level on arrival in Britian and had periodic assesments every four years. A control group of 52 British adopted children were also measured to see if it was the seperation of the mother or the Romanian circumstances that were responsible.

FINDINGS: Around half of the Romanian group showed intellectual defiects at the start and most were very underweight. The British children showed no such negative effect. Four years later, the two groups showed no significant differences, interllectually or physically.

RESULTS: The negative outcomes shown by Romanians could be overcome through adequate substitute care. Seperation from the mother alone is not enough to significantly cause negative outcomes, as British children had been seperated but weren't developmentally delayed.

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Evaluation of Rutter et al

  • The situation of the Romanian orphans provide a unique opportunity for psychologists to study the effects of severe and sustained privation in large numbers. Previous research was limited to animal experiments or case studies.
  • Although not all of the children showed developmental catch up that were equivelent to UK controls (eg, if they were adopted after 6 months), they still showed significant improvements in comparison to the non-adopted Romanian peers.
  • Despite all of the children being raised in extremely deprived conditions, the extent of human contact and the individual experience the children had once they were adopted varied hugely. This may have affected the effects of privation in some of the children
  • More recent research questions Rutter's original findings that early privation could be overcome - the general outlook seems to be less positive when adoption occurs after the age of 6 months.
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Age related benefits of adoption

  • Harlow's experiments show the beneficial effects of moving isolated monkeys from very impoverished rearing conditions is very dependant on age.
  • Monkeys who were removed from isolation at three months made reasonable recoveries, but if the removal was delayed till 6 or 12 months, the monkeys continued to show disturbed behaviours.
  • The Romanian orphan's care levels were extremly low in physical and psychological resources, and at four years of age there was no difference in the development of UK or Romanian orphans. However, the children who were adopted after 6 months of age showed increasing effects of being left in an institution.
  •  Those adopted when aged between 6-24 months scored around 15 IQ points below the UK comparison group, and those adopted 24 - 42 months scored around 24 IQ points below the UK comparison group, which could be classed as a learning disability.
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