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The emotional bond between a mother and
The 1st attachment is usually with the Mother
Why develop attachments?
Forms template for all other relationships
There are a number of definitions of
Schaffer (1993) ‘A close emotional
relationship between two persons,
characterised by mutual affection and a
desire to maintain proximity.
Maccoby (1980) Seeking proximity,
Separation anxiety,
pleasure when reunited
Selective – specific individuals
What is the reason for proximity-seeking
Comforting and provides security
Lead to ‘separation anxiety’ when parted
Short term and long term
Short term: Ensures survival of offspring
Long term: Bowlby (1980) proposed that early
attachments provide expectations of the
attachments made later in life
Different rules apply to animals and humans
Imprinting ( Konrad Lorenz)
Example birds forming attachments to the first
thing they see upon hatching
Proposed that the effects were irreversible
Guiton et al (1966) disagreed with the
irreversible nature of imprinting. They
imprinted newly hatched chickens onto yellow
rubber gloves (Marigolds if you prefer). In
later life, just as the theory predicts, they did
indeed try to mate with the gloves. However,
when they had chance to spend time with
others of their own species, they developed a
‘taste’ for mating with these instead.
The Sensitive Period is the idea that there is a
time in an infant’s life when it is most likely to
form an attachment,
However it can continue to form attachments
outside this period.
Bowlby argued that our need to form
attachments was innate and would occur in the
sensitive period between the ages of 1 and 3
Schaffer & Emerson and the Glasgow
babies (1964)
Aim: To find the age at which
attachments start and how intense these were
Method: They studied 60 babies from a
working class area of Glasgow, observing
them every four weeks for the first year and
then again at 18 months.
They measured strength of attachment by:
Separation anxiety: how distressed the child
became when separated from the main
caregiver (which suggests an attachment has
been formed) and
Stranger anxiety: distress shown when the
child was left alone with an unfamiliar person
(which suggests that the child can recognise
familiar and unfamiliar people).
The first specific attachment was formed by
50% of infants between 6 months) and 8
Intensity peaked in the first month following
the onset of the first attachment.
Multiple attachments began soon after the
first attachment had been formed. By 18
months 31% had five or more attachments,
e.g. to grandparents etc.
Asocial ( 0-6 weeks) This is short lived. Attention
seeking behaviour such as crying and smiling is not
directed at anyone in particular, suggesting
attachments could be made with anyone.
Indiscriminate attachment ( 6 weeks-7months)
Similar in that the child seeks attention from
anyone and is happy to receive attention from
anyone. However, preferences are shown to
familiar faces that elicit a greater response from
the infant
Specific ( 7-11 months) Child is primarily
attached to the main caregiver. If they are
separated the child becomes distressed and the
child is wary of strangers.
Since babies were observed in their own homes
(a natural environment) we can assume that the
study is high in ecological validity; the findings
can be generalised to the real world.
However, accuracy of data collection by parents
who were keeping daily diaries whilst clearly
being very busy could be questioned
Learning Theory ( Behaviourists)
Behaviour is not innate it’s learned
Learning can be due to associations being
made between different stimuli (classical
conditioning) or behaviour can be altered by
patterns of reinforcement (reward) and
punishment (operant conditioning).
Dollard and Miller (1950) suggested that the
attachment was due to drive reduction (due
to biological needs)
Hunger and cold have a strong motivating
affect on the child, driving the child to satisfy
its need by eating or seeking warmth.
Obtaining food or warmth results in drive
reduction which in itself provides reward for
the child.
Hunger and cold (discomfort) are referred to as
primary drives and food and warmth are primary
The person supplying the food and warmth
(usually the mother) becomes associated with the
food and warmth and acts as a secondary
The attachment occurs because the child wants
the person providing the food and warmth.
Note: When the child is cold and hungry it
cries. This is unpleasant for the mother
(punishment) who is likely to feed and cuddle
the child. The child stopping crying acts as a
negative reinforcer for the mother (something
unpleasant has been taken away). Negative
reinforcers make the mother’s behaviour,
feeding and cuddling, more likely in future!
This offers a similar but simplified
explanation of how food provides
attachment. The child simply associates food
and mother together, much as Pavlov’s dogs
associated bell and food together.
If you want this in technical terms:
Food is an unconditioned stimulus that
produces an unconditioned response
At the outset, mother is a neutral stimulus who
produces no response (pleasure)
However, because she is continually paired with the
unconditioned stimulus (food) she slowly becomes
associated with it until eventually mother alone can
produce pleasure.
Mother has now become a conditioned stimulus and
the pleasure she brings is a conditioned response.
(Again think of conditioned as learned whereas
unconditioned is something that was there all the
The behaviourist theory is reductionist
because it takes complex human behaviour
and breaks it down into simple terms
Does not consider the emotional nature of
This is similar in some respects to learning theory, in
that both emphasise the role of reinforcement (an
action that is rewarded being more likely to be
repeated). However, SLT emphasises the role of
Hay and Vespo (1988) suggested that attachments
develop because parents teach their children to love
them. This can be achieved in three ways:
Modelling: children copy the affectionate behaviour
that they see between their parents.
Direct instruction: parents teach their children to be
Social facilitation: parents watch their children and
encourage appropriate behaviours
Durkin (1995) does not believe that SLT can
explain the intensity of emotion that the
attachment produces.
On the plus side, the theory can be said to be
influential in that it has stimulated a lot of
research into the interactions that take place
between parents and their children.