Psychology revision attachment

help with as exam on attachment

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Learning theory

Attachment is learnt rather than inborn

Classical Conditioning-Learnign through association, Ivan Pavlov dogs- learnt to salivate (response) when they heard the door open (stimulus) as they associated the door opening to the giving of food.

Occording the the learning theory food ( the unconditinal stimuls) creates a sense of pleasure ( unconditional response) The caretgiver who feeds the baby becomes associated with the food and the pleasure it brings. This creates an attachment.

Operant conditioning-Learning through reward and punishment. If we do something and it results in pleasants consequences it reinforces this behaviour and we are more likely to do it in the future. If we are punished, we are less likely to repeat these actions.

Miller et al- Food becomes the primary reinforcer, the caregiver is associated with food and is the secondary reinforcer. Attachment is seeking out the person with the reward.

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Evaluate learning theory

There is some truth we do learn through association and reinforcement, however food may not be the main reinforcer.

Harlow's monkeys- Hypothesis it is comfort rather than food that creates an attachment. He agev a baby monkey two 'wire mothers' one with a feeding bottle the other wrapped in a cloth. The monkey spent the majority of its time with the wire mother and clung to it in times of destress ( a key feature of a formed attachment).

Tronick at al- observed an african tribe, where babies were looked after by multiple women and often breast-fed by others. However the children still showed their main attachment with their mother not necessarily the person who breast fed them.

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Bowlby's theory of attachment

Attachment is innate- Attachment is inborn ( something we are born with) this is adaptive behaviours, as it increases the offsprings chance of survival

Sensitive period- 3-6 months when this time pasts it will be increasingly difficult to form an attachment

Caregiving is innate- Wanting to care for a child is innate- the baby has social releasers which make us want to respond, such as crying or smiling. An attachment is formed due to to interaction

Secure base- Attachment makes independance as it creates a 'secure base' the child can exsplore then return to in times of danger.  

Monotropy- Bowlby believed although we make numberous attachments but there is a primary attachment they are most attached to ( the one most sensitive to their needs- often the mother. Secondary attachments are also important on social development.

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Evaluating Bowlby's theory

Universal across cultures-

Tronick at al- observed an african tribe, where babies were looked after by multiple women and often breast-fed by others. However the children still showed their main attachment with their mother not necessarily the person who breast fed them.

Monotropy- same as above ^


A second study of Harlow's had baby monkeys raised for the first 6 months by their mothers were socially abnormal. Supporting Bowlby's theory there must be secondary attachment figures.

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Evaluating Bowlby's theory

Other attachment models e.g Learning theory

The babies personality ( temperament hypothesis- Kayan ) could be the reason for forming certain attachments and shape a mother's responsiveness.

Rovine- assessed babies from the age 1-3 days. Calmer infants in later years were more likely to have a secure attachment with their mothers.

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Types of attachment

Strange situation-  Ainsworth et al constructed a study to observe a childs level of stranger anxiety and seperation anxiety.

Procedure- There a different episodes lasting around 3 minutes long- including infant and parent playing, infant left alone, stranger and infant alone, mother returning.  

Secure attachment- Not likely to cry if care giver leaves room, easy to soothe, seek bodily contact with caregiver. They exsplore knowing they have a 'secure base' to return to. 

Insecure-avoidant-  Show little response to seperation, reunion or contact. They avoid social interaction and are often quite angry as their attachment needs are not met.  

Insecure resistant- Both seek and reject intimacy. Seperation creates exstreme distress, on reunion they have conflicting desires for contact but may angrily reject.  


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secure- 62%

insecure- 15%

insecure resistant- 9%

Mixed attachment types- 15%

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Evaluating types of attachment - strange situation


Main et al found children behave differently depending on which parent they were with. This means perhaps the strange situation is measuring one relationship not something lodged into the individual.


 The exsperiment results are reliable if consistent, observations should be the same. Th strange situation compared ainsworths results with that of a panel of exspert observers. And found a .94 agressment between raters. Which is near perfect.


Is it fair to put young infants through this destress, as 20% were reported crying 'desperately'.

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How do attachment types effect later life?

Prior and glaser-

Secure attachment- less emotional dependant and a high achievement and personal harmony.

Insecure Avoidant attachment- Aggressive and is generally negotive.

Insecure-resistant- greater anxiety and withdrawn behaviour.  

Romantic behaviour-

Shaver et al-

Secure- relationships are possitive, Trusts others and believes in enduring love

Insecure- avoidant- fearful of closeness, love is not lasting

Insecure- resistant- Preoccupied with love, fall in love easily but have problems finding lasting love.

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Factors infulencing attachment types

Temperament hypothesis- Kagan

Children are born with personalities that effect attachments. Easy,difficult, slow-to-warm-up. An easy baby is easy to bond with and care for, and vice versa for a difficult baby.

Ainsworth et al-

Mothers with securly attached babies are sensitive and accessible

Insecurely- more unresponsive to crying- less affectionate.

Avoidant- rejecting, pay less attention

Resistent- More occupied with activities then their infant.

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Cultural variations

Tronick at al- observed an african tribe, where babies were looked after by multiple women and often breast-fed by others. However the children still showed their main attachment with their mother not necessarily the person who breast fed them.

Grossman and Grossman- found German infants tend to be classified as insecurely rather than securely attached. This is because German culture believes a child should be independent of their parent, and pratice different child-bearing practices.  

Takahashi- Japanese culture raises their children to be dependant of the care giver as they see this as securely attached and are rarely seperated. Making them appear insecure-resistant in the strange situation.

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Evaluating culture variations in attachment

Rothbaum et al-

American's promote the idea os independance as being securely attached . However in Japan the opposite is true, to be dependant is to be securely attached.

In America to be securely attached in soical situations is to independant and be able to regulate emotions. In japan it is to be dependant and not show emotions.

Cultures within a nation-

Sagi et al found the strange situation had similar results in urban Japan as with Western cities and the same for rural enviornments.

Kroonenberg suggested there are cross-culture similarities due to mass media (tv, books) promoting the same parenting ideas, especially in urban settings.

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James Robertson- John's 9 day stay in a nursery.

Beginning normal, but by the end he only seeked comfort in an over-sized teddy bear, cried often and was withdrawn. When his mother returned he struggles to get away from her and cries. For months afterwards he would have outbursts of anger towards her.

Bifulco et al- found girls who can lost their mothers before the age of 17 were twice as likely to suffer from depression as adults.


High in validity as they are real life cases

Low in validity as they only focus on a small amount of people.

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Failure to form attachment

Genie- was found at 13 after she had been locked in her room her whole life with very little human contact. She could not stand erect or speak, she also seemed to have a lack of emotion.

Gardner- found that children in institutional care tended to be smaller then other children. A case study of a 8 months year old girl who was never cuddled my her mother- as she feared of dislodging her feeding tube. She was admitted to hospital and with no change to her diet she grew to a regular size, supporting Gardner's theory that with attention a baby grows. 

Harlow's monkeys showed that a failure to from attachment can can result in poor parents themselves.

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Impacts of day care

Russel et al- found that 20+ hours of daycare a week had a negative effect on social development, behaviour and attachment

NICHD did a longitudinal study on children in day care. They found at the age of 5 the longer a child had spent in daycare the higher the parents rated them as being aggressive.

Field found the amount of time spent in day care had a positive correlation to how many friends a child had. 

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High quality day care-

  • Low staff-to-child ratio- as not to overwhelm the carer and each child gets its needs met.
  • Minimal staff turnover- May not form an attachment to any staff, or if they have may suffer anxiety when they leave
  • Qualified staff
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