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Psychology Unit 1 - Attachment

Terms in this set (39)

Learning theory suggests attachment develops through classical and operant conditioning. According to classical conditioning, food (the unconditioned stimulus) produces pleasure (the unconditioned response). The mother is associated with pleasure and becomes a conditioned stimulus.
According to operant conditioning, food satisfies the infant's hunger and makes it feel comfortable again (drive reduction). Food is therefore a primary reinforcer. The mother is associated with food and becomes a secondary reinforcer. The infant becomes attached to the mother because she is a source of reward.

A strength of learning theory is that it focuses on observable behaviour and can be tested experimentally, and so the hypotheses of the theory can be subjected to experimental validation, making the theory more reliable.

However one study which undermines learning theory is Harlow's monkey study. He found that the monkeys used the soft 'surrogate' mother which was wrapped in towel as their base and returned to her for comfort when they were scared, and only visited the wire 'surrogate' mother with the bottle to feed from. This suggests that attachment is based more on the need for contact comfort than feeding.

Another study which undermines learning theory is Schaffer and Emerson, who found that the first attachment formed by only 39 per cent of the babies was to the person who fed them, and the rest to those who were sensitive to the baby's needs and played with them. This suggests that responsiveness is more important than the provision of food.
Bowlby believed that attachment is innate and adaptive. Infants are born with an innate drive to become attached because otherwise they have less chance of survival, as they cannot feed themselves or escape from danger.
Being innate the child has built in mechanisms which elicit caregiving behaviours from parents, called social releasers. Adults are genetically primed to respond to these behaviours by offering care and affection. Attachment behaviours in both babies and their caregivers have evolved through natural selection and those who did not possess these were less successful and their genes are no longer in the gene pool.
The child's relationship with a caregiver provides an internal working model which influences later relationships. This is called the continuity hypothesis.
Bowlby also suggests that there is a best time to form an attachment. This is called the sensitive period, where infants are most sensitive to development of attachments, and Bowlby would suggest that this is when the child is 3-6 months old. However, attachment can still take place at other times although it becomes increasingly difficult.

One study which supports Bowlby's explanation is Hazan and Shaver. They set out to address the question 'Is love in adulthood directly related to the attachment type as a child?' and found that there was a strong relationship between childhood attachment type and adulthood attachment type. This supports Bowlby's concept of an Internal Working Model and his continuity hypothesis.

However, a limitation of this study is that it is correlational; it does not provide a cause and effect relationship between childhood and adulthood attachment type, and there may be other factors involved. Kagan suggested the temperament hypothesis as a possible extraneous variable. He found that children have an innate temperament, e.g. easy going or difficult, that influences early attachments with their caregivers and later relationships when they are adults. This suggests that attachments form as a result of temperament rather than an innate gene for attachment.

Another study which undermines Bowlby's theory is Shaffer and Emerson, who found that infants have multiple attachments of equal importance. Rutter also points out that several indicators of attachment (such as protest or distress when attached person leaves) have been shown for a variety of attachment figures - fathers, siblings, peers and even inanimate objects.This criticises Bowlby's concept of monotropy which outlines that a child has a single attachment to one person who is most important to them.
There have been many studies on the effects of day care on children's social and emotional development, some suggesting positive effects and some suggesting negative effects of day care.

Campbell et al. studied a group of children from Sweden who all attended childcare continuously between the ages of 18 months and 3 ½ years of age. Of these, 9 attended home based day care, 30 attended nursery and 9 switched from home based day care to nursery during the study. They were compared with children who did not attend day care and were looked after by their parents. They found that children who spent long days in care (such as from 8am to 6pm) under the age of 3 ½ were less socially competent. However, those who attended more days per week but had shorter days were more socially competent and had developed better social abilities. This suggests that length of time in day care may be a factor which determines day care's effects.

A strength of this study is that the researchers used a range of measurements to assess each child's social competence including reports from teachers and self-reports from when the children were adolescents. Using data from a range of different people provides a rich and detailed picture of the child's social abilities, making the data more reliable. However, a criticism of this study is that it used only Swedish children. The test is therefore culturally biased. Swedish day care is well funded and so it may be that the quality of day care is higher there than in other countries where nurseries are less well funded, therefore the results of the study may not be representative of the entire population.

The EPPE project findings have also found a positive effect of day care on peer relations. When children's development during pre-school was compared to that of 'home' children, researchers found that pre-school attendance improved cognitive development for all children, as well as aspects of social behaviour, such as independence, cooperation, conformity and relationships with other children (peer sociability). However it was also found that too much time in day care in the first two years led to antisocial behaviour later on.

A strength of this research is that it is high in population validity as it had a sample size of 3000, gathered from 141 day care providers of different types i.e. playgroups/day nurseries in urban, suburban and rural areas. The study is therefore high in population validity and is likely to be representative of the entire population and so its findings can be generalised reliably.

Research has shown that children who are not looked after by their parents need to have an opportunity to form an attachment with someone else. For example studies have indicated that day care can be a stressful experience for young children because it involves separation from the attachment figure. Goldschmied and Jackson suggested that in order to reduce stress, many nurseries should adopt a key worker approach. The key worker acts as the attachment figure for each child during their time at nursery and sees to the need of the child.

A strength of this research and infact all research into the effects of day care is that it has lead to the application of better quality practices in day cares. However, due to ethical issues it is impossible to test research into the effects of day care experimentally, therefore hypotheses of the theory cannot be subjected to experimental validation and so the reliability and validity of observational research can be questionable. For example, it is not possible to control confounding variables such as individual differences (some children are innately more friendly/aggressive).
Privation is where a child never forms an attachment to an attachment figure. The effects of privation can include impairments in cognitive learning and abnormal functioning.

Evidence looking at the effects of privation comes from Hodges and Tizard who used a longitudinal approach to study the effects of early experiences and later development. They found that children who were raised in an institution during the sensitive period were unlikely to form an attachment, even when restored to their biological parents. The children also showed unusual attachment behaviours, such as running to any adult who entered the room and demanding their attention, and crying when the adult left, despite the fact that they had no attachment with them.

However there is an issue of how it was decided which children were restored to their parents and which weren't. It is possible that there may have been differences between the groups and perhaps the restored group was less socially skilled, making it more difficult to form relationships with their parents. This means that the sample may have been biased, making it unrepresentative of the entire population.

Alternatively, the study of the Czech twins by Koluchova demonstrate that the effects of early, severe privation are reversible. The twins were raised in extreme isolation without any social interference until the age of 7. At age 7 they were put into care by two sisters who they formed good relationships with and when assessed at the age of 14, they showed no signs of abnormality in their intelligence.

However a limitation of this study is that the twins had been raised in a normal home until they were eighteen months old and so may have had opportunities to form attachments then. If they had formed an attachment with their mother and then lost her, this may be less damaging than having never formed an attachment. This would make the study more a case of deprivation than privation, limiting the internal validitity of the research.

Also, case studies of this nature provide serious ethical challenges for the researcher. Because the children involved are often seriously affected, they may be unable to give their fully informed consent. The ongoing follow-up of children in their later lives may be experienced by them as intrusive and they may feel as if they are simply 'objects' of psychological research. Researchers must balance the desire to study the effects of privation against the needs of those involved.
In the strange situation about 100 middle-class American infants and their mothers took part. The infant's behaviour was observed during a set of pre-determined activities. These included introducing mother and child to the room, child playing with toys, stranger entering, mother leaving, stranger interacting with child, mother returning and child left on their own.
Using this procedure, Ainsworth was able to assess separation anxiety and stranger anxiety and whether the baby used their mother as a safe base to explore the room in a strange situation. From her study, Ainsworth identified three types of attachment behaviour shown in the infants: Secure, Insecure-Avoidant and Insecure-Resistant. They found that 70% of the children showed secure attachment, 15% insecure-avoidant and 8% insecure-resistant.

The biggest flaw of Ainsworth's strange situation is the fact that it may not measure the attachment type of the infant but rather the quality of the relationship between the infant and caregiver. A study conducted by Main and Weston concluded that infants behave differently depending on which parent they are with. This could mean that the strange situation doesn't fully measure what it is supposed to which ultimately decreases the internal validity of the strange situation as a measurement of attachment type.

There is also a lack of population validity. The test was devised by Ainsworth in the USA using American children. The test is therefore culturally biased. Desirable attachments in the USA may not be seen as desirable elsewhere, therefore the results of the study may not be representative of the entire population. For example Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg's meta-analysis found that the lowest percentage of secure attachment was shown in China, and the highest in Great Britain. Avoidant attachment was more common in West Germany but rare in Israel and Japan. Resistant attachment was more common in Israel, China and Japan. This suggests that we can only make valid interpretations of the Strange Situation if we understand the attitudes to child-rearing in that culture.

However it was also found that the strange situation was very reliable because the results of the observers were consistent with one and other and there was almost a perfect inter-observer agreement (0.94%). This increases the validity of the strange situation as a way of measuring attachment type and means that the results can be generalised and applied to similar situations