Explanations of attachment: Learning Theory

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Attachment is an emotional bond between two people. It is a two-way process that endures over time and leads to certain behaviours such as clinging. It serves the function of protecting the infant.

Primary Attachment Figure the person who has formed the closest bond with a child. This is usually a child's biological mother, but other people can filfil the role.

The learning theory (classical and operant conditioning) explains behaviour in terms of learning rather than any inborn tendencies.

The learning theory assumes that we are all born a blank slate (Tabula-Rasa)

Behavourists suggest that all behaviour is learned either through classical or operant conditioning.

1) Classical Conditioning

- learning by association

Food (UCS) naturally produces a sense of pleasure (UCR). The person who feeds (CS) the infant becomes associated with the food. The 'feeder' eventually produces the pleasure associated with food; pleasure now becomes a conditioned response (CR). This association between an individual and a sense of pleasure is the attachment bond.

  • According to the learning theory, the baby has to learn to form an attachment with his mother. By the process of classical conditioning, the baby forms an association between the mother (neutral stimulus) and the feeling of pleasure that comes from being fed (an innate unconditioned response). At first, the baby simply feel comforted by food. However each time he is fed, the mother is there too. He quickly associates the mother with the pleasure of being fed. Before long, the mother stimulates a feeling of pleasure on her own, even without food. The means the baby feels happier when the mother is near. It is the beginning of attachment. 

2) Operant Conditioning

- learning as a consequence of your actions

  • takes place because of ACTIONS and REWARDS

Each time you do something and it results in a pleasant consequence, it becomes more probable that you will repeat that behaviour in the future.

If you do something that results in an unpleasant consequence, it becomes less likely that you will repeat that…

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