Disruption of attachment

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Bowlby suggests that if an attachment is not formed, or is disrupted, the child, later in life, will become depressed, have emotional development problems, anxiety, deliquency, lower IQ etc. Ainsworth supported this by finding that her Strange Situation theory showed that when the parent left their child alone with a stranger, the child became distressed.

The effects of disruption

Robertson and Robertson (1969) - Laura and John

Aim: to look at the effects of children being separated from their parents for a brief period of time had on their behaviour


Laura: 2 year old girl admitted to hospital for an 8 day stay. She alternates between periods of calm and distress. Visited occassionally by her parents and begs to go home.

John: 17 month old boy placed in residential nursery for 9 days while his mother was in hospital. His father visited regularly.

Findings: Behaves normally for the first two days but then begins to try to get attention from nurses. When John fails to find anyone who will respond to him, he seeks comfort in a big teddy bear. Over the next few days he refuses food and drink, stops playing and cries a lot. In the first week he greets his father enthusiastically, but by the seconod week he doesn't say anything to his father. When his mother comes to take him home, John struggles to get away from her.

Conclusions: Over the course of 9 days, John went from a happy well adjusted child to a distressed child that rejected his mother upon reunion with her.

Robertson and Robertson (1967-73) - Jane, Lucy, Thomas and Kate

Aim: to look at how separation from parents affects the emotional bond

Method: all under 3, placed in foster care for a few weeks with the Robertsons while their mothers were in hospital. The Robertsons kept routines similar to those at home. Fathers visited regularly. Kate was taken to visit her mother in hospital and was more settles after…


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