Psychology Attachment Unit

HideShow resource information

Features of Attachment

  • They are selective; they are directed towards specific individuals who are preferred over all others
  • They involve the desire to be near that person
  • They provide comfort and security and are particularly important when the child is frightened, tired or ill
  • They involve seperation protest; the child becomes greatly distressed if they cannot be near the person to whom they are attached
1 of 12

Schaffer & Emerson (1964) Stage Theory

Asocial Phase:

  • 0-6 weeks
  • Very young infants are very asocial in that many kinds of stimuli, both social and nonsocial, produce a favourable reaction, such as a smile.
  • Very few produce any kinds of protest.

Stage of Indiscriminate Attachments:

  • 6 weeks - 7 months
  • Infants indiscriminantely enjoy human company
  • They smile more at people than at lifelike objects such as puppets
  • They get upset when an adult stops interacting with them, regardless of whom the adult is
  • From about 3 months, however, they smile more at familiar faces than unfamiliar faces and are more easily comforted by a regular caregiver than by a stranger

Stage of Specific Attachments - the first true attachment:

  • 7-9 months
  • The infant expresses protest when seperated from one particular individual (usually the mother)
  • If they can crawl, they attempt to stay close to this person
  • They show wariness of strangers

Stage of multiple attachments:

  • 10 months onwards
  • Children begin to be attached to others, such as the father, grandparents, siblings and other regular caregivers
  • By 18 months, the majority of infants have formed multiple attachments
2 of 12

Theories of attachment

Psychoanalytic theory:

  • Based on Freud
  • Freud believed that infants become attached to people who satisfy their need for food at the oral stage
  • Oral gratification gained from the sucking and swallowing of feeding causes drive reduction, which is experienced as pleasant
  • Freud's drive theory and idea that attachment is due to food has not been supported

Cognitive theory:

  • Schaffer (1971) focuses on the perceptual and intellectual cognitive aspects of attachment
  • He points out that infants usually form attachments once they can reliably distinguish one caregiver from another and from the caregivers that stimulate and interact with them the most intensely

Learning theory:

  • Suggests that attachment should occur as parents become associated with pleasant stimuli such as food via classical conditioning
  • The positive emotional responses produced by these pleasant stimuli are transferred to the parents by their repeated association together, until the very presence of the parents without any unconditional stimuli is rewarding to the child
  • As parents become secondary reinforcers, capable of producing positive conditioned emotional responses in their children, the infant will seek the presence of, and show distress on seperation from, the attachment figure

Bowlby's attachment theory:

  • Bowlby (1951) suggested that human infants were genetically programmed to form attachments to a single carer (the mother in most cases), within a critical time period (approx. 2 and a half years)
  • Bowlby argued that attachment between infant and caregiver has evolved because of its adaptive behaviour that aids survival
  • In particular, for the infant attachment provides food, security, a safe base from which to explore the world, exposure to important survival skills shown by the parent and an internal working model of relationships with others
  • The last point is particularly important if the child is to form loving attachments in later life
  • For the parent it ensures a greater likelihood of their offspring surviving (and thus passing on their own genes for attachment formation)
3 of 12

Attachment Studies

Konrad Lorenz:

  • Lorenz was an ethologist who noticed the way ducklings and goslings followed their mothers after birth, and found that if he allowed greylag goslings to see him rather than their mother in the first day after hatching, then they would follow him around
  • Lorenz demonstarted that the greylag goslings actually preferred him to their natural mother and found that they became very distressed if he was out of their sight - he even had to go swimming himself to get them to swim
  • Lorenz termed this attachment and following behaviour 'imprinting' and argued that it was innate, irreversible and occured in a critical time period (or not at all)
  • He further suggested that the imprinting severed an important survival function and provided a model for future interactions; his goslings as adult geese tried to mate with humans rather than members of their own species
  • Later research found that imprinting occurs in a sensitive rather than a critical time period and can be reversed to some extent

Harlow and the Rhesus monkeys:

  • Harlow conducted a series of studies that involved raising monkeys in social isolation or periods of either 3, 6 or 12 months.
  • After 3 months he found that the monkeys were emotionally disturbed, avoided other monkeys and crouched in the corner. He introduced play periods to inegrate the monkeys but kept them partly in isolation. He found that their behaviour improved.
  • After 6 months he found that the effects were exaggerated, the monkeys preferred to be alone and were afraid of the other monkeys. Inegration with other monkeys took longer
  • After 12 months he found that monkeys were totally withdrawn, they were totally bewildered and indifferent to everything and couldn't be left alone with other monkeys in case of injury. He found that as the monkeys grew up they had no concept of how to behave as an adult. Female isolate monkeys that had children made no attempt to establish a bond with them.
  • He found that the monkeys seemed to show an innate preference to form attachments to a cloth 'surrogate mother' model that provided contact comfort, rather than a wire 'surrogate mother' model that provided food

Schaffer & Emerson (1964):

  • They conducted a two-year, longitudinal, field study of attachment involving the measurment of infant seperation distress and anxiety in the presence of strangers in the home
  • The study revealed that multiple attachments are possible and that the infants formed attachments towards the carers who were responsive and interacted with them the most, rather than those who fed them

Bowlby's Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis:

  • Bowlby was a practising pschiatrist
  • He worked in youth centres
  • He wrote a book called '44 juvenile thieves'; he wanted to find out why they were damaged
  • He found that 39% of the 44 juvenile thieves were seperated from their mother in the first years of their life
  • He found that this seperation had caused emotional damage which was long lasting and made an impact on the person's future relationships
  • He believed that this seperation cause a child to become 'affectionless psychopaths'
4 of 12

Attachment Studies

Bulldog's Bank Study:

  • Freud and Dann
  • At the end of  WW2 there were alot of displaced people
  • Study focuses on 6 war orphans (aged 3-3years and 10 months) who were sent to camps with their mothers but their mothers died within the 1st year
  • After their mother's had died they were looked after by any adult that could; there was no continuity of care
  • Later they were moved to the Bulldog's Bank Reception Centre
  • When they arrived the children were always together, they didn't talk much, were very hostile to adults, they didn't know how to play, they tore toys to pieces, they were all quite small and appeared to be attached to each other. The children destroyed furniture and stored it for later, when they were given food they hid it for later
  • Bowlby would expect the 6 orphans to be damaged
  • Freud & Dann observed that the children showed their attachment to each other in a different way than normal; they believed that they had attached to each other because they were the only constant in their lives.
  • When the reception centre closed the children were seperated and no follow up research on them was conducted
5 of 12

Attachment Studies

Koluchova Twins (1972):

  • Study centered around two identical twin boys born in 1960
  • Their mother died soon after they were born and their father cared for them solely (maternal deprivation)
  • At 11 months of age the boys were put into care as the father felt he couldn'c cope
  • Their development was normal although their attachment process was slightly disrupted; they saw their father and were normal socially
  • Their father remarried and at 18 months they were taken out of care to live with their father, his new wife and her older children
  • Their step-mother didn't particularly like them and so locked them both in the cellar; she put polythene on the floor for them to sleep on, they had little furniture, no toys or heating, they were fed poorly and were beaten regularly with a rubber hose if they were naughty or did something the step-mother didn't like
  • Both their father and the step-mother's children knew what was happening but neither interfered
  • At 7 years old the twins were found when they were not attending school; they were put into specialist care as they had several health and mental problems. The boys had rickets from lack of sunlight, they were malnurished and under-developed, they were scarred from their beatings, they had no eating habits and rarely spoke.
  • The twins were terrified of people and were put into hospital until they were physically well
  • They attended a special school to try to get them to interact socially and to try to start the attachment process again
  • After a while the twins were fostered by two sisters who cared for them
  • At 15 the twins were relatively normal, they had a normal IQ, were friendly and could relate to others
  • The twins emotional state was sometimes still affected
  • The twins would not fit Bowlby's criteria of an 'affectionless psychopath'
6 of 12

Attachment Studies

Goldfarb (1943):

  • Study centered around two groups of 15 children; the first group included 15 children raised in institutions from the age of 6 months to 3 and a half years. The second group included 15 children who were seperated from their mothers at birth and put into foster homes
  • During Group One's first year in the institution they lived in almost complete social isolation; at 3 years old Group One was behind on measures of abstract thinking, social maturity, rule-following and sociability compared to group two
  • At age 10-14 years group one were still performing poorly and their average IQ were 72 and 95
  • This study supports Bowlby's theory that the children had formed a bond with their mothers in group one and so they were the most damaged; however this study mostly focuses on privation and Bowlby centered his work around deprivation
7 of 12

Attachment Studies

Spitz (1945, 1946):

  • Studied children raised in poor South American orphanages
  • The staff hardly socialised with the babies and showed them no affection
  • The orphans showed anaclitic depression (reaction to loss of love object) which includes developmental retardation

Spitz & Wolf (1946):

  • They studied 91 orphanage infants in the US and Canada
  • Over one third of the infants died before their first birthday even though they had good nutrition and medical care
8 of 12

Attachment Studies

Robertson & Robertson's Study of John (1969):

  • James and Joyce Robertson wanted to see how maternal deprivation affected the mental state and psychological development of a child
  • John was 17 months old and his mother was having a second baby and so he was put into a residential nursery until his mother was ready to have him back (9 days)
  • John liked to be with the nurses at the nursery but didn't get on with other children
  • Initially John was very happy at the nursery but by day 3 he became very distressed
  • His dad missed visits to see him and when he did visit, John was aggressive towards him
  • By day 3-5 John cried alone in corners or for long periods of time, he continued to get close to one or another nurse, he gradually began to try less and less at getting close to a nurse and was mostly unresponsive when they tried to comfort him, instead he sought comfort from a teddy bear
  • When his mother collected him he reacted violently and didn't look at her for a long time; when he finally did it was a long hard look
  • The Robertson's concluded that short term seperation causes distress for the child
  • This was a naturalistic observation, it was a in depth case study of an individual
  • Joyce sat through the 9 days in the nursery writing everything she saw whilst trying to be 'invisible'
  • The nurses at the nursery were assigned to duties rather than individual children
  • The other children in the nursery had been there since birth and were aggressive, noisy, self-assertive and demanding
9 of 12

Deprivation and Privation Definitions


  • Loss of seperation from attachment figure (were once together)
  • Short term effects - distress
  • Long term effects - seperation anxiety


  • Complete lack or absence of attachment
  • Long term effects - developmental retardation (affectionless psychopath)
  • E.g. Koluchova twins (1972-1991), Chism et al (1995)
10 of 12

The Strange Situation

Ainsworth devised a simple controlled observation study, called the Strange Situation in which the following sequence took place:

  • The mother (or caregiver) takes the infant into the laboratory room and sits quietly in a chair. She does not interact with the infant unless her attention is sought
  • A stranger enters, talks to the mother and them approaches the baby with a toy
  • The mother leaves unobtrusively. If the infant is passive the stranger tries to interact. If the child shows distress, the stranger attempts to comfort him or her
  • The mother returns and greets the infant. The stranger then leaves. The mother tries to get the infant to play, then leaves, say bye-bye
  • The baby is left alone
  • The stranger enters and interacts with the infant, offering comfort if the child is upset or a toy if the child is passive
  • The mother returns, greets the infant and picks it up. The stranger leaves unobtrusively.

- At all stages the child's reactions are observed through a one way mirror.

The Strange Situation study measures:

1) Seperation Anxiety - the response the child makes when the mother departs

2) The infants' willingness to explore and play with new toys

3) Stranger Anxiety - the reaction of the child to the stranger

4) Reunion behaviour - how the child behaves when the mother returns

From these studies Ainsworth classified types of attachment as follows:

  • Secure Attachment (Type B) infants explore freely when their mother is present and use her as a secure base when the stranger appears. They show distress when she leaves and greet her warmly when she returns. They are readily comforted by her, soon returning to a state of contentment, and show a clear preference for her over the stranger. This is the optimum form of attachment. 60% of children showed this type of attachment. It shows that the bond between parent and child is fully formed and this is considered the best form of attachment.
  • Resistant (anxious) attachment (Type C) children do not explore the new toys with such confidence. Compared to secure infants, they remain closer to their mother, showing signs of insecurity even in her presence. They become very distressed when she leaves. When she returns they may cling to her but show ambivalent reactiosuch as hitting her while still clinging. They are clearly angry and anxious. She does not provide a secure base. (Insecure Attachment)
  • Avoidant Attachment (Type A) children show little or no concern when the mother leaves or pleasure when she returns. There is no indication of stranger anxiety and the children show little preference for their mother over the stranger, often avoiding both. (Insecure Attachment)

Study was initially centered around only 40 children but then it was expanded. There was a big enough sample size to generalise the results.

11 of 12

J. Hodges & B. Tizard (1989)

This research is a follow up of a number of studies carried out to examine the effects on a group of children of being raised in institutions and experiencing many changes of carer until at least the age of two years, and thereafter being brought up within a family environment. 

Hodges and Tizard were interested in the extent to which the effects of early institutionalisation were felt by age 16 and they set about following up all the children who had been investigated at age eight.

The Sample:

  • Out of 51 who were followed up to the age of eight, nine were unavailable at the age of 16,
  • A comparison group (with no experince of institutionalisation) was formed, matched on age, sex, number of parents, class and position in the family.


  • The ex-institutional adolescents and their mother, father or care-worker were interviewed, as were the matched sample, together with a parent. 
  • Each adolescent completed the Questionnaire on Social Difficulty (Lindsay and Lindsay 1982).
  • The parent of care-worker filled in the 'A' Scale Questionnaire (Rutter et al. 1970) on the behaviour of the adolescent.
  • The school, with permission from the parents and adolescents, was sent a 'B' Scale Questionnaire (Rutter et al. 1970) and a questionnaire devised for the study, focusing on relationships with peers and teachers.


  • At age 16 a high proportion of the comparison group and the adopted group were reported to be attached to their parents. However, only 50% of those children who had been restored to their natural parents were said to be attached. 
  • The ex-institutional group, especially the restored group, had more problems getting along with siblings than did the comparison group.
  • There was no significant difference in affection between the comparison group and the adopted group but the restored group were significantly less affectionate. 
  • The ex-institutional group had poorer peer relationships than the comparison group. They were more likely to be friends with anybody who was friendly. Teachers rated them as more argumentative and less popular. From mothers' reports, it seemed they were less likely to have a best friend than were the comparison group.


Differences were found to exist between the ex-institutional adolescents and the comparison group, mainly outside the home and particularly in relationships with peers.

12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Attachment resources »