Psycholohy - Attachments

Theories Of Attachment And Studies

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  • Created by: Katie
  • Created on: 05-05-09 10:58

Theories of Attachment

Attachment: A strong emotional bond between an infant and primary caregiver

It is not known for certain how, or why attachments form, but there are two main theories as to why. These are the Evolutionary Theory, put forward by Bowlby, and the Learning Theory, suggested by Dollard & Miller in 1949.

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Learning Theory

Dollard and Miller claim that we learn our behaviours from the environment around us, through classical and operate conditioning. Classical conditioning tells us that the infant will learn to associate the primary caregiver with certain behaviours, for example feeding and comfort. While in operate conditioning the infant will learn through reinforcement and punishment. The infant learns that crying and smiling will bring a positive reaction from the caregiver, and when they misbehave, it will bring negative reactions.

Dollard and Miller say that it is a combination of the reinforcement, and the association which allows us to form an attachment to the caregiver. The infant will form its attachments according to those who they learn to associate basic needs with, e.g. feeding. Through this the child will form its strongest bond to its primary caregiver.

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Evolutionary Theory

Bowlby on the other hand claims that attachments are in fact not learned, but are pre-programmed into the infants at birth. The attachment we know today is the way it is because it has evolved in order to help the survival of the species.

The parent will respond to their child as evolution has given the child the basics it needs to 'appeal' to the parent. e.g. physical appearence, crying, smiling, etc. The combination of these makes the parent want to look after the child.

Bowlby also says that the infant will not neccasarily attach onto the parent, but instead onto whoever responds to their 'appeal'. They select this person and form an attachment to them, seeing them as a secure base to explore the world from.

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Types of Attachment

Depending on how the caregiver reacts to the childs behaviour will affect the sort of attachment which is formed, and therefore the childs future behaviour.

Secure Attachment - a securely attached child will see the parent as a secure base and feel free to go exploring their environment. Upon seperation the child becomes upset, but is easily comforted upon return. When in the presence of a stranger the child is friendly, but avoidant of them if mother leaves. Often associated with a sensitive and responsive caregiver.

Insecure Resistant Attachment - an insecure resistant child will become extremely distressed, however upon reunion they will become clingy, as well as rejecting the caregiver at the same time. In the presence of a stranger the child will show fear of them, with or without the caregiver present. Often associated with inconsistant care.

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