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The word reciprocity means two way, or something that is mutual. Infant and caregiver are both active contributors in the interaction and are responding to each other. This is referred to as reciprocity.

Traditional views of childhood believed that a baby took a passive role, simply recieving care from an adult however research shows us that a baby is very active and that mother child interactions are like a 'dance' Brazelton et al (1975). Mother and child take turn to initiate interactions and from birth babies and carers spend a lot of time in intense and pleasurable interaction. Babies have alert periods that mothers pick up on and respond to, although only about two thirds of the time (Feldman and Eidelman 2007). From three months the reciprocal element kicks in as interaction becomes increasingly frequent and involves the carer and child playing close attention to each others verbal signals and facial expressions.

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Interactional synchrony

The word synchrony means a simultaneous action or occurance. Interactional synchrony relates to the timing and pattern of the interaction. the interaction is rhythmic and can include infant and caregiver mirroring each other's behaviour and emotion. The infant and caregiver's behaviours are synchonised because they are moving in the same or a similar pattern.

Condon and Sander (1974) have investigated interactions between infants and caregivers in particular in relation to responses to adult speech. In their paper they report 'As early as the first day of life, the human neonate moves in precise and sustained segments of movement that are synchronous with the articulated structure of adult speech'. According to research by Meltzoff and Moore (1983) infants as young as 3 days imitate the facial expression of adults. This implies that this ability to mirror is an innate behaviour.  

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Evaluation of caregiver-infant interactions

Supporting evidence

Both of these pieces of research show support for the concepts of reciprocity and interactional synchronicity. 

Meltzoff and Moore (1977) used 4 different stimuli; adults displayed one of the three facial experessions and a hand gesture and the child's response was filmed and identified by independent observers who had no knowledge of what children had just seen. The behavioural catagories were mouth opening, termination of moouth opening, tongue protrusion, termination of tongue protrusion. Each observer scored the tapes twice so that inter-observer reliability could be calculated. All scores were greater that .92. An association was found between the expression or gesture the adult has displayed and the babies actions.

Isabella et al (1989) observed 30 mothers and infants together and looked at synchrony and quality of attachment and found an association between high levels synchrony and better quality attachments.

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Stages of attachment identified by Schaffer.

Pre-attachment: Birth-3 months: Babies start to smile and become more 'sociable' and from around 6 weeks. They can tell people apart and like to be in human company so begin to from stronger attachments however these do notn progress much until the next stage as can be easily comforted by any individual. At this stage, Schaffer and Emerson found that they did not show a fear of strangers.

Indiscriminate attachment: 3 months to 7/8 months: Infants are recognising and forming bonds with their carers through reciprocity and interactional synchrony however their behaviour towards animate (faces) or inanimate objects (teddies) is quite similar. Towards the end of the phase they start to be more content when in the presence of other people and can be more easily calmed by familiar adults but will allow strangers to handle and look after them.

Discriminate attachment: Usually 7/8 months onward: They keys things about this stage are that the infant begins to show seperation anxiety and 'protests', usually by crying, when their primary attachment figure leaves (usually the biological mother in 75% of cases). They are said to now have formed a specific attachment. The second key behaviour is that they begin to show fear of strangers.

Multiple attachment: 9 months onwards: Shortly after infants show specific attachments they begin to make multiple attachments (29% within a month according to Schaffer's study). They is usually towards friends, grandparents and child-minders/nursery staff. 

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Evaluation of stages of attachment

Supporting evidence - research by Schaffer and Emerson supports the stages of attachment.

Schaffer and Emerson (1964) aimed to investigate the formation of early attachments, when they started, their intensity and to whom they were directed.

Method - A longitudinal study using 60 babies (31 male, 21 female) from Glasgow, the majority from skilled working class backgrounds. They were visited at home every month for the first year and then at 18 months. Mothers were interviewed to measure the infants level of attachment asking questions about how their infants responded to 7 situations e.g. adult leaving the room (separation anxiety) and obvservations were conducted to investigate the level of distress the presence of a stranger caused  (stranger anxiety). 

Findings - Timings-specific attachment (signs of separation anxiety) 50% of infants by 7 months, 80% by 40 weeks and almost 33% having five or more multiple attachment figures.

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The role of the father

Summary of key findings:

  • Fathers play interactions are more exciting and pleasurable than mothers
  • Mothers are more nurturing and affectionate
  • Mothers are preferred when children are distressed and seeking comfort
  • Fathers are preferred when children are in a positive emotional state and want stimulation ( Lamb 1987)
  • Fathers are less able than mothers to detect low levels of infant distress (Hrdy 1999)
  • However fatherrs that do become the main care provider do quickly develop more sensitivity to children's needsand become a safe base for children for children to explore from suggesting that sensitive responsiveness is not necessarily a biological ability limited to women (Lamb 1987)
  • Marital intimacy was linked to security of father-infant interactions. So the fathers with secure father-infant interactions had secure and intimate relationships with the child's mother.
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Evaluation of the role of the father

Research evidence - Evidence by Grossman (2002) has suggested that the father has a different, unique role in attachment , one that has more to do with play and stimulation and less to do with nurturing.

A longitudinal study was carried out looking at parents behaviour and its relationship to the quality of children's attachment in their teens. It was the quality of the mother's attachment and not the fathers that was related to attachment in their teens but the quality of the fathers play with infants was related.

So this evidence shows that the father is still important in a child's development and their role does impact on the quality of their attachments in their teenage years but through play and not nurturing and being the primary attachment figure.

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Contradictory evidence (Role of the father)

Field (1978( filmed 4 month babies in face to face interactions with their primary caregiver mothers, secondary caregiver fathers and primary caregiver fathers. They found that primary caregiver fathers like mothers spent more time smiling, imitating and holding infants than secondary caregiver fathers and that this behaviour is important in the building of attachments. 

This is suggesting the father is as capable as then mother of being a sensitive and caring primary caregiver if given the chance and that is the level of responsiveness and not the gender of the parent that is the key to the attachment relationship.

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Multiple attachments

  • 29% of infants develop multiple attachments within a month of developing specific attachment (by 40 weeks)
  • By the age of one 78% of children have multiple attachment (Schaffer)
  • By the age of one 33% of the 78% have 5 or more attachments (Schaffer)
  • Fathers are one of the key multiple attachments that children form and that this attachment is important for a child's development.

Further evidence and ideas

Bowlby developed the idea of monotropy - babies have one key attachment figure. This figure is usually, but doesn't have to be, the mother. Secondary attachments then follow, such as to the father and siblings. Rutter (1995) saw all attachments as being equal - so there is no such thing as primary and secondary attachments. All a child's attachments give the child an idea of how relationships work (an internal working model) In some cultures multiple caregivers are the norm so mulitiple attachments may develop immediately instead of specific attachments. For instance Sagi et al (1994) looked at children raised in a community, where they slept away from their parents,a dn compared that them to children with family based sleeping arrangements. Attachments to the the mother was twice as strong in the family based arrangements.

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Animal studies - Lorenz (1935)

To investigate the mechanism of imprinting, where bird species mobile form birth follow and form attachment to the first moving object they see.

Lorenz split a clutch of greylag goose eggs into two batches - one naturally hatched by the mother, one in a incubator with Lorenz as the first moving object they saw. He then recorded their behaviour.


The incubator group followed Lorenz everywhere whereas the control group followed their mother. When the two groups were mixed up the incubator group still continued to follow Lorenz and the control group the mother.

There was a critical period of between 4-25 hours (depending on species) and if imprinting did not occur the chicks did not attach to a mother figure.

Lorenz subsequently reported that the goslings imprinted on humans would later attempt to mate with humans.

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Animal studies - Harlow (1959) Part 1

To determine whether food or close comfort was the important factor in attachment, Harlow placed 16 baby rhesus monkeys in cages with teo surrogate mothers; a harsh wire mother or a soft towelling mother.

4 of the 16 monkeys were used in each of the following 4 conditions:

  • Wire mother producing milk, towel mother no milk
  • Wire mother no milk, towel mother producing milk
  • Wire mother producing milk
  • Towel mother producing milk

The amount of time spent with the mother was recorded as well as feeding time. The monkeys were frightened with a loud noise to test for mother preference during stress. A large cage was also used to test for degree of exploration.

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Animal studies - Harlow (1959) Part 2


Monkeys preferred contact with the towel mother when given a choice of surrogate mothers, regardless of whether she produced milk; they even stretched across to the wire mother to feed whilst clinging to the towel mother.

Monkeys with only the wire mother showed signs of stress had diarrhoea. When frightened by a loud noise, monkeys clung to the towel mother in conditions where she was available.

In larger cage conditions monkeys with towel mothers explored more and visiting their surrogate mothers more often.

Monkeys in adulthood - Monkeys in some of Harlow's experiments were followed into adulthood and severe consequences were found-more aggressive, less sociable, bred less often as were unskilled at mating. As mothers some of the monkeys neglected their young and others attacked their children even killing them in some cases. 

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Evaluation of animal studies - Part 1

Theoretical value - Harlow's findings have had a profound effect on psychologists understanding of mother-infant attachment. Most importantly Harlow showed that attachment does not develop as a result of being fed by a mother figure but as a result of contact comfort. He aslo showed us the importance of the quality of early relationships for later social development. 

Difference in nature and complexity of the bond - It is argued that it is not appropriate to generalise Lorenz's findings to humans as a mammal's attachment system is quite different to that of birds. Mammals show much more emotional attachment to their young and may be able to from attachments at any time, albiet less easily in infants so the bond in humans is much more complex.

Problems of extrapolation to attachment in human infants - Although monkeys are more similar to humans that geese so making it slightly more easy to generalise, they are still not human and so it is argued that we can not necessarily generalise Harlow's or Lorenz's research to human attachments.

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Evaluation of animal studies - Part 2

Ethical issues - Harlow faced severe criticism for the ethics of his research. The species were considered similar enough to humans to be generalised to them and so the suffering they encountered was presumably very human like there were long term severe effects for all of the monkeys involved. Some argue the findings were important enough to justify the ethical isses though.

Imprinting not always permanent -  Lorenz work has been replicated and in some cases it was found that imprinting was not always permanent. Guiton (1966) found that chickens were imprinted to a yellow rubber glove they did at first imprint on it but learned with experience to prefer mating with other chickens eventually so it suggests that the impact of imprinting on mating behavioour is not as permanent as Lorenz believed.

Practical applications - Harlow's research has helped social workers to understand risk factors in child neglect and abuse and so intervene to prevent it (Howe 1998). They have also been important in the care of captive monkeys and we now understand the importance of proper attachment figures for baby monkeys in zoo's and breeding programmes.

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Explanations of attachment: Learning theory - Part

The behavioural explanatio proposes that all behaviour is learnt rather than inborn (innate). When children are born they are like blank slates and everything they become can be explained in terms of the experiences they have. Learning theory is put forward by behaviourist who solely focus on behaviour - what people do rather than what they might be thinking. Behaviourists suggest all behaviourand so attachment can be explained using the concepts of classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning - According to the classical conditioning part of learning theory attachment is formed partly due to learning through association. Food (unconditioned stimuli) naturally produces a sense of pleasure in a child (unconditioned response). The person who feeds the infant initially (neutral stimuli) provides no natural response but over time the 'feeder' eventually produces the pleasure associated with the food; pleasure now becomes a conditioned response and the feeder the conditioned stimuli. This association between an individual and a sense of pleasure is the attachment bond.

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Explanations of attachment: Learning theory - Part

Operant conditioning: Key terms 

  • Positive reinforcement - when the consequences of yuor actions are pleasant, so you repeat the behaviour again to get the positive reinforcer e.g. praise, money.
  • Negative reinforcement - when you repeat a behaviour not because you are recieving a reward or something pleasant but are removing something unpleasant for example you take paracetamol to get rid of a headache which is unpleasant.
  • Primary reinforcer - this is something which is automatically or directly reinforcing e.g. food, money, praise.
  • Secondary reinforcer - this is something that is indirectly reinforcing so through classical conditioning has become associated with a primary reinforcer e.g. the mother giving a child food

Learning theory and drive reduction - The primary drive for the baby is hunger; babies are driven to have their hunger reduced. Attachment is a secondary drive learned by an association between the caregiver and the satisfaction of the primary drive. Hence learning theory predicts that babies want to be close to the caregiver who feeds them.  

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Explanations of attachment: Bowlby's monotropic th

Based on the work of Harlow and Lorenz, Bowlby proposed an evolutionary explanation of attachment.

  • Attachment is an innate system that is biologically programmed into babies from birth in order to help them survive e.g. infants have an innate drive to survive.
  • Babies seek proximity to carer (mother) for safety as it protects them from hazards; millions of years ago wild animals; today, cars, pongs, electricity. So security and secure attachment equals survival.
  • Monotropy - Bowlby proposed that infants have one special emotional bond, normally biological mother (but not always) and that this relationship was different and more important than any others. Bowlby believed the more time spent with the primary attachment figure the better.
  • Internal working model - The importance of monotropy is that, for a child, this special relationship forms a mental representation or a model for what relationships are like. It can therefore have a powerful effect on the nature of a child's future relationship and their ability to be a parent themselves. Individuals who are strongly attached as children continue to be socially and emotionally competent in relationships and with their own children whereas infants with poor attachments have more social and emotional difficulties in childhood and in adulthood (the continuity hypothesis).
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Explanations of attachment: Bowlby's monotropic th

  • Social releasers are important for the development of this parent-infant attachment as they elicit caregiving from the parent. Social releasers are innate mechanisms so natural characteristics or behaviours of babies such as; baby faces/cuteness, crying, smiling.
  • Critical period - Bowlby believed that if attachment hadn't occured by the age of two then a child will have difficulty forming attachments later on in life. 


  • CRitical period
  • Innate programming
  • Internal working model
  • Monotropy
  • Proximity
  • Social releasers
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Evaluation of Monotropic theory - Part 1

Research Evidence - Evidence from Harlow and Harlow (1962) supports Bowlby's theory. They found that baby monkeys would cling to a wire model covered with cloth rather than a wire model that could feed it. The monkeys spent most of their time (22/24 hours) clinging to the towel model, they went on to be bad mothers. These findings support the concepts of innate programming and monotropy because the monkey instinctively sought to be close to one specific monkey mother even if it was a fake one and the fact that it favoured the cloth monkey further supports the idea of monotropy. It also supports the idea of the internal working model because the monkey didn't form adequate attachment and so didn't form relationships as an infant monkey and went onto become a bad mother, suggesting that the monkey didn't know how to look after infants because she had never learnt herself. 

Evidence from Schaffer and Emerson (1964) which found that by 18 months old only 13% of babies were attached to one person and many of the infants had as many as five attachment figures contradicts the idea of monotropy. Also Lamb (1982) found that infants had different attachments for different purposes than certain attachments being more important than others; fathers for play, mothers for comfort.

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Ainsworth's strange situation

The security of attachment in one- to two-year-olds were investigated using the 'strange situation' procedure, in order to determine the nature of attachment behaviors and styles of attachment. Ainsworth developed an experimental procedure in order to observe the variety of attachment forms exhibited between mothers and infants. The experiment is set up in a small room with one-way glass so the behavior of the infant can be observed covertly. Infants were aged between 12 and 18 months. The sample comprised about 100 middle-class American families. The procedure, known as the ‘Strange Situation’, was conducted by observing the behavior of the infant in a series of eight episodes lasting approximately 3 minutes each: (1) Mother, baby and experimenter (lasts less than one minute). Mother and baby alone. Stranger joins mother and infant. Mother leaves baby and stranger alone. Mother returns and stranger leaves. Mother leaves; infant left completely alone. Stranger returns. Mother returns and stranger leaves.

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 Secure AttachmentAmbivalent AttachmentAvoidant Attachment Separation Anxiety Distressed when mother leaves. Infant shows signs of intense distress when mother leaves. Infant shows no sign of distress when mother leaves. Stranger Anxiety Avoidant of stranger when alone, but friendly when mother present. Infant avoids the stranger - shows fear of stranger. Infant is okay with the stranger and plays normally when the stranger is present.

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Findings - Part 2

Reunion behavior Positive and happy when mother returns. Child approaches mother, but resists contact, may even push her away. Infant shows little interest when mother returns. Other Will use the mother as a safe base to explore their environment. Infant cries more and explores less than the other 2 types. Mother and stranger are able to comfort the infant equally well. % of infants 70 15 15

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Secure attachment

Securely attached children comprised the majority of the sample in Ainsworth’s (1971, 1978) studies.

Such children feel confident that the attachment figure will be available to meet their needs. They use the attachment figure as a safe base to explore the environment and seek the attachment figure in times of distress (Main, & Cassidy, 1988).

Securely attached infants are easily soothed by the attachment figure when upset. Infants develop a secure attachment when the caregiver is sensitive to their signals, and responds appropriately to their needs.

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Insecure avoidant

Insecure avoidant children do not orientate to their attachment figure while investigating the environment.

They are very independent of the attachment figure both physically and emotionally (Behrens, Hesse, & Main, 2007).

They do not seek contact with the attachment figure when distressed. Such children are likely to have a caregiver who is insensitive and rejecting of their needs (Ainsworth, 1979). The attachment figure may withdraw from helping during difficult tasks (Stevenson-Hinde, & Verschueren, 2002) and is often unavailable during times of emotional distress.

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Insecure resistant

The third attachment style identified by Ainsworth (1970) was insecure ambivalent (also called insecure resistant).

Here children adopt an ambivalent behavioral style towards the attachment figure. The child will commonly exhibit clingy and dependent behavior, but will be rejecting of the attachment figure when they engage in interaction.

The child fails to develop any feelings of security from the attachment figure. Accordingly, they exhibit difficulty moving away from the attachment figure to explore novel surroundings. When distressed they are difficult to soothe and are not comforted by interaction with the attachment figure. This behavior results from an inconsistent level of response to their needs from the primary caregiver.

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Cultural variations in attachment

Mary Ainsworth (1970) carried out most of her research in the USA but child-rearing practices vary considerably from place to place in terms of environment, traditions and beliefs about children.

Two Main Types of Cultures

  • Individualist cultures value independence with each working to their own individual goals e.g. USA and Europe (Western Cultures). 

  • Collectivist cultures value cooperation with each working towards the family or group goals e.g. Japan and Israel (Eastern Cultures).

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Cultural variations in attachment - Part 2


It was found that secure attachment was the most common type of attachment in all cultures. The lowest percentage of secure attachments was shown in China and the highest in Great Britain. Results showed that individualistic countries that support independence such as Germany had high levels of anxious avoidant, whereas countries that are more culturally close (collectivist), such as Japan, had quite high levels of ambivalent-resistant.

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Maternal deprivation

1. A child has an innate (i.e. inborn) need to attach to one main attachment figure (i.e. monotropy).  2. A child should receive the continuous care of this single most important attachment figure for approximately the first two years of life.  3. The long-term consequences of maternal deprivation might include the following: delinquency, reduced intelligence, increased aggression, depression, affectionless psychopathy. 4. Robertson and Bowlby (1952) believe that short term separation from an attachment figure leads to distress (i.e. the PDD model).

They found 3 progressive stages of distress Protest: The child cries, screams and protests angrily when the parent leaves. They will try to cling on to the parent to stop them leaving Despair: The child’s protesting begins to stop and they appear to be calmer although still upset. The child refuses others’ attempts for comfort and often seems withdrawn and uninterested in anything Detachment: If separation continues the child will start to engage with other people again. They will reject the caregiver on their return and show strong signs of anger.

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Romanian Orphans

The standard of living for Romanian orphans is still problematic despite vast improvements since their conditions were leaked to the West after the fall of the Communist government in 1989. Orphanages lacked both medicines and washing facilities, and children were subject to sexual and physical abuse. 

111 children adopted younger than 2 years old from Romania to England were compared with 52 children of similar ages adopted within EnglandRutter found that the Romanian children had poor physical health and a mean IQ of 63 (when adopted). When these children were assessed again it was found that while 51% of them were below the third percentile in weight at the age of 2, at the age of four this had gone down to 2%. Their IQ’s were also assessed again and it was found that the average for those adopted before the age of 6 months had gone from 63 to 107 in the space of two years, it had only gone from 45 to 90 for those adopted after the age of 6 months.

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Internal working model

The Love Quiz was printed in local newspaper the Rocky Mountain News and readers were asked to complete questionnaires assessing infant attachment type and attitudes to romantic relationships in adulthood.  Hazan & Shaver analysed the first 620 replies sent in from people aged from 14 to 82.  They classified the respondents’ according to Mary Ainsworth’s infant attachment types of secure, anxious-resistant and anxious-avoidant and looked for corresponding adult love style.  They found a strikingly high correlation between the infant attachment types and adult romantic love stylesSecure types described their love experiences as happy, friendly and trusting . They were happy depending on others and comfortable if others are dependent on them.Insecure-resistanttypes experienced love as involving obsession, a desire for reciprocation, emotional highs and lows, extreme sexual attraction and jealousy, and worry that their partners didn’t really love them or might abandon them. Their desire for intense closeness could frighten others away. Insecure-avoidant types typically feared intimacy, emotional highs and lows, and jealousy and believed they did not need love to be happy. They were uncomfortable being close to and/or depending on others.Hazan & Shaver concluded that there was evidence to support the concept of the inner working model having a life-long effect. However, they did concede that not everyone stayed true to their infant attachment style and that some people did change as they grew older.

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