Explanation of attachment
What is an attachment?
A strong emotional and reciprocal tie that develops
over time between an infant and their primary
1. seeking proximity, especially in times of distress
2. Distress on separation
3. Pleasure when reunited
4. General orientation of behaviour towards the
Learning theory: Attachment is a learned process (Nurture)
Model Classical conditioning Operant conditioning
Outline learning through association
NS - bell
US - food
UR - salivation
CS - bell
CR - salivation
Learning through consequence:
Reinforcement – increases likelihood of behaviour by:
Positive reinforcement – adding something
Negative reinforcement – taking something away
Punishment – reduces likelihood of behaviour by:
Positive punishment - adding something
Negative punishment - taking something away
How does it
Stimulus of food (US) produces a
response of pleasure (UR). The person
providing the food (CS) becomes
associated with the pleasure. After
multiple pairings the CS results in the
UR regardless of the US.
Dollard and Miller
When hungry a baby is uncomfortable and experiences a drive
state. When being fed the baby feels comfortable again resulting
in drive reduction – which is rewarding. The food is the primary
reinforcer, the carer is the secondary reinforcer.
AO2 Learning theory predicts that an infant’s attachment will be to the person who gives the greatest pleasure
or drive reduction – probably the person who feeds it! Research suggests otherwise!
Harlow and Harlow (1962) - Attachment is not based on the supply of food
Infant monkeys are placed in a cage with 2 wire mash cylinders each with a face. One cylinder provides the
monkey with milk and the other is covered in towelling to provide soft contact to comfort. Infant monkeys
spent more time on the towelling monkey and even used it as a secure base from which to explore. Thus,
comfort was more important than food.
• Later life monkey’s were indifferent or abusive to other monkeys and had difficulties mating and
Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that fewer than ½ of infants had a primary attachment to the person
who usually fed, bathed and changed the infant.
Reductionist – reduces complex human behaviour to overly simple ideas such as stimulus, response and
Pavlov’s dogs Skinner’s rats
Over all evaluation
Research on humans!
Evolutionary perspective – Bowlby’s theory
Outline Any inherited behaviour that increases the chances of survival and reproduction will be passed on to the next
generation. Attachment is important for survival. Infants are physically helpless and need adults to feed, care
for and protect them.
1. Infants and caregivers are programmed to become attached
2. Biological process that takes place during a critical period or development or not at all
3. Plays a role in later development as the continuity hypothesis.
Lorenz (1962) imprinting in non-human animals
Geese imprint of the first moving object they see. From an evolutionary perspective a young animal that
follows its mother is more likely to survive and reproduce.
Social releasers -(smiling, crying) are necessary to trigger a caregiving reaction. Responses are innate in
Critical period -A set developmental period in which develop takes place. Bowlby proposed if a child does
not form an attachment before 2 ½ it will be impossible thereafter.
Continuity hypothesis – The relationship with one special attachment figure (monotropy) provides an infant
with an internal working model of relationships – which is the foundation upon which adult emotional
AO2 Research support for continuity hypothesis:
• Hazan and Shaver (1987) found attachment type has a significant positive correlation with type of
attachment in adult romantic relationships
Critical period/ sensitive period
• Research by Rutter et al (1998) on orphans raised in institutions found adotped children were able to
form attachment relationships were later able to form attachments. Later they were adopted slower the
progress. This research is more consistent with a sensitive period.
Individual differences - some cope with poor attachment while others suffer long term consequences?
Issue of falsifiability
The Strange Situation
• Ainsworth and Bell (1970)
• Aimed to produce a method for assessing
quality of attachment.
• 100 middle-class American infants and their mothers.
• Controlled observation of mother and child during a set of
– Separation anxiety : unease infant shows when left by caregiver
– Infant’s willingness to explore
– Stranger anxiety: the infant’s response to the presence of a stranger
– Reunion behaviour: the way the caregiver was greeted on return
The Strange Situation 8 steps
1. Mother and child are introduced to the room.
2. Mother and child are left alone and child can investigate
3. A stranger enters the room and talks with the mother.
Stranger gradually approaches the infant with a toy.
4. Mother leaves the child alone with the stranger, and the
stranger interacts with the child.
5. Mother returns to greet and comfort the child.
6. The child is left on its own.
7. The stranger returns and tries to engage with the child.
8. Mother returns, greets and picks up the child. The
The Strange Situation 8 steps
1. Mother and child introduced
2. left alone
3. stranger enters
4. Mother leaves
5. Mother returns
6. child is left on its own
7. stranger returns
8. Mother returns
With just these key words can
you explain the 8 steps in the
1 + 2
used to it
infant is left
‘I don’t care!’
3 Types of Attachment Behaviour
66% 12% 22%
Securely Attached (66%)
• Would explore the unfamiliar room
• Subdued when mother left and greeted her
positively when she returned
• Moderate avoidance of the stranger, but
friendly when mother present
• Mothers were described as sensitive
• Did not orientate to there mother while
investigating the room and toys
• Did not seem concerned by her absence
• Showed little interest when mother returned
• Avoided the stranger, but not as strongly as
they avoided the mother on her return
• Mothers sometimes ignored their infants
• Showed intense distress, particularly when
their mother was absent
• Rejected mother when she returned
• Showed ambivalent behaviour towards the
stranger, similar to the pattern of resistance
and interest shown with their mother
• Mothers appeared to behave ambivalently
towards their infants.
There appears to be a
between the mother’s
behaviour and the infant’s
Sensitive/ responsive Insensitive/ unresponsive
securely attached Insecurely attached
The study shows there are
differences between infants
It shows that most
American children are
Efficient: could measure a lot of behaviours quite
quickly and easily bring in lots of participants
Easy to replicate: method has been employed in
studies the world over – especially in cross-
Validity: location is different from infant’s normal
environment. However, many infants experience
new locations quite naturally e.g. with a
babysitter, at play group, etc
Generalisations: it would be unreasonable to
generalise about all infant behaviour as the
findings of this study are restricted to it’s sample
type (middle-class Americans)
Ethics: consider distress, infants found most of
the situations distressing. What about informed
consent? Prior to each study, was the mother
informed of the potential distress that their baby
What causes different types
Multiple care-giver paradox
Nature/ nurture debate
- Caregiver sensitivity
• Culture is not a group of people, but is is
about the beliefs and customs that a group of
• Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that
one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally
important, and that all other groups are
measured in relation to one's own.
• In what way could the Strange Situation be
seen to be ethnocentric?
Cultural variations of strange situations
Takahashi (1990) Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988)
Aim Tested the strange situation with Japanese
Study to show whether strange situation
attachment findings can be generalised to other
Procedure 60 middle class Japanese children aged 1 year
of boys and girls with their mothers
Meta-analysis of Strange situation results from 32
studies in 8 different countries.
Findings • 68% secures attached
• No infants avoidant-insecure
• 32% resistant insecure
• Couldn’t handle infant alone step as
infants were too distressed.
(1) Sweden (S) 74% (A) 22% (R) 4%
(2) Japan 68% 5% 27%
(2) Israel 64% 7% 29%
(3) W-Germany 57% 35% 8%
(1) Great Britain 75% 22% 3%
Conclusion There are cross-cultural variations in the way
infants respond to separation and being left
Japanese children were never left alone
before age of 2
Strange situation was very stressful for them
Total lack of avoidant behaviour in sample
In Some cultures interpersonal distance between
parents and children is encouraged and thus
infants to not engage in proximity- seeking
behaviours would appear to be insecurely
attached. May not be appropriate to make
comparisons between different countries or
cultures as the strange situation may not mean the
same thing in different contexts.
Evaluation Psychological harm
Limited sample of only middle-class
Do not know the number of infants involved in
Privation & institutionalism Disruption/ Deprivation
Definition No attachment is formed with the primary
Separation (or taken away) from
the primary caregiver
Studies Hodges and Tizard (1989)
• Studied 65 children placed in an institution less
than 4 months old.
• By age of 4 some had been
• Restored to natural home
• Remained in institution
• Adopted children had close relationships with
their parents, whereas this was much less true
fo restored children.
• AO2 confounding variables –socially desirable
• Case study of Genie
• Didn’t recover
• Case study of Czech Twins
• Both recovered
Bowlby (1994) 44 Juvenile thieves
• 86% of thieves diagnosed
experienced early and
• Only 4% of the control group
(non thieves) experienced
• Suggests a link between early
separation and later social and
• AO2 Correlational
• AO2 Can’t isolate IV and DV
Robertson (case study)
• 3 children under the age of 3
• If substitutory emotional care is
used need not lead to
Is it possible to recover?
deprivation hypothesis -
NO! Children separated
during critical period
would be disturbed!
• Recovery is possible given the right
circumstances (Twins Genie )
• Evidence does not support the maternal
• Some evidence to suggest privation leads to
• Not all research supports this
• Separation does not inevitably
lead to (perhaps associated
with) harmful effects.
What factors contribute to a good quality day care?
• Schaffer 1999
Ensuring minimal staff turn over
Having a teacher that a child feels responsible to
Consistent routines and physical environments
Amount of verbal interaction between caregiver and child
Sufficient stimulation such as toys, books and play things
Sensitive emotional care
• The NICHD study found only 23% of providers gave highly sensitive
care, 50% were moderate and 20% were emotionally detached.
• Howes et al (1998) found that if a day care provided teachers with
emotional sensitivity training children around 2 years became more
Effect of day care on social development
• Extensive non-parental care was associated with increased avoidance and
insecurity of attachment.
• Children who spend more than 20 hours a week in day care tend to be
more insecurely attached than home-cared children.
• Egeland and Hiester (1995) found that day care appeared to have a
negative effect for secure children, but was a positive influence for
Effect of day care on peer relations
• Found attending a pre-school institution was associated with greater
independence, cooperation, conformity and sociability with other children.
• These effects were greatest when equal value was placed on social and
• Children in group-based day care were more social and better able to negotiate
Effects of day care on aggression
• EPPE followed 3000 children in the UK from the age of 3
– Day care increased the risk of antisocial behaviour for disadvantaged children (except
high quality day care reduced the risk)
– Disadvantaged children did better in a setting with a mixture of children from different
social backgrounds rather than purely disadvantaged children.
– Good quality preschool provision is effective at reducing antisocial behaviour and
breaking the cycle of disadvantage.
• Sammons et al
– Slightly increased risk of antisocial behaviour for children who spend more than 20
hours in nurseries.
– Warned that when carers constantly changed this could lead towards aggression.
Results and conclusions –high quality care
improved social, intellectual and behavioural
development. The earlier a child started in
day care, the better the intellectual
development. Children also had better
sociability, independence and concentration
the longer they had been in day care.
• It used to be the case that when children were
adopted, biological mothers were encouraged to nurse
the baby for as long as possible.
• How ever during the critical period the baby would
become closely attached to the mother and then
experience deprivation and failure to form secure
attachments in the future.
• Most babies are now adopted within the first week
• Singer et al shows adoptive and non-adoptive babies
and mothers are equally securely attached.
The Effective provision of pre-school
education EPPE project
• EPPE project found high quality day care had a
positive effect on the development of a child.
– The government then promised a pre-school place for
every 3 year old from 2004.
• EPPE found that spending too much time in group
based care before the age of two resulted in
higher levels of antisocial behaviour later on.
– Gordon Brown then announced in 2004 that paid
parental leave after childcare would be extended from
6 to 9 months – with the intended eventual increase
to 12 months.
• Research by Joyce Robertson showed that in
situations where children experience physical
separation from their primary attachment figure
the negative effects can be mitigated if substitute
emotional care is provided.
• This changed government policy and hospitals
attitude to parents visiting children in the
• Parents are now routinely allowed to stay with
children and are actively involved in planning and
implementing a plan for their child’s needs.