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Description of Bowlby's Theory

Mike Prince

on 5 June 2015

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“A close emotional relationship between two persons, characterised by mutual affection and the desired to maintain closeness”.
Shaffer (1993)

An emotional relationship experience through life. When you are attached to someone, it makes you feel good to be in that person’s company and also makes you feel anxious when they are not there.
A society that values its children must cherish their parents.
Evolutionary Theory
John Bowlby

44 Juvenile Thieves Study
What is Attachment?
Attachment is biologically
pre-programmed into
children at birth

Mike Prince
Developmental Child Psychology
What is Attachment? Characteristics of Attachment. Two Theories of Attachment. Evaluation.
Maccoby (1980) identified for key elements:
Seeking proximity to primary caregiver. The infant tries to stay close to its “attachment figure”.
Distress on separation. When caregiver and infant are separated, both experience feelings of distress.
Pleasure when reunited. Obvious pleasure is shown when the child is reunited with his/her caregiver.
General orientation of behaviour towards primary caregiver. The infant is aware of his/her caregiver at all times may frequently make contact for reassurance.
Characteristics of Attachment.
Attachment Theory
Behaviourists - Learning Theory
Dollard and Miller (1949)
As a result of:
Classical Conditioning (Association)
Operant Conditioning (Consequences)
Konrad Lorenz (1935)
Imprinting in
Greylag Geese
John Dollard (1900 – 1980)
Neal Miller (1909 – 2002)
Classical Conditioning
Infant learns to associate feeding/comfort with primary carer/mother
Mother acquires comforting properties by association
Operant Conditioning
Infant learns that crying, smiling brings positive response from adults (reinforcement)
Adult learns that responding to cries etc. brings relief from noise (negative reinforcement)
Learning Theory
Main Predictions

The child will form attachments on the basis of primary care provision (feeding etc.)
Attachment behaviour should increase steadily from birth
The strongest attachments will be with those who provide the most primary care
But what about
Harlow's Monkeys
(1958) . . .

(1907 - 1990)
Encoded in the human genes
Evolves and persists because of its adaptiveness
It is evolutionarily useful for survival and reproduction. (Highly influenced by Lorenz’s work.)

1. Safety. Attachment results in the desire to maintain proximity and thus ensure safety.
2. Emotional Relationships. Attachment enables the infant to learn how to form and conduct healthy emotional relationships.
3. A secure base for exploration.
4. And insecurely attached child is less willing to explore.
Social Releasers
Critical Period
Attachment must be innate, or the infant or parent might not show it.
It must be two-way because both infant and caregiver must actively take part.
The infant innately elicits care giving from its mother figure by means of these social releasers.
Physical Appearance - eyes!
Stages of Reaction
Protest stage
increases the probability that the parent will find the infant.

The following
stage conserves energy and allows the defenceless infant to survive as long as possible in a dangerous environment.

Very influenced by animal psychologists (Ethologists).
Emphasize concept of “Critical Period”.
Attachment happens during a set period or possibly not at all.
Long lasting and irreversible.

Infants are programmed to attach to whomever responds to their releasing stimuli:
They select one special attachment figure (monotropy), who is used as a safe base for exploring the world.
The primary attachment is the template for future social relationships.

Good, but . . . . .
Bowlby's theory of attachment is one of the most influential theories in the history of psychology.
Attachment is a set of learned behaviours.
It results from experience of the environment, not innate processes.
Bowlby put forward the first ever systematic and comprehensive theory of attachment and most subsequent theorists have made at least some use of his main ideas.
The fundamental notion that attachment has great value in maximising the infant’s chances of survival
helps us to understand why attachment is so important.
Bowlby’s theorising strongly influenced the development of the Strange Situation Classification, which is easily the most popular way of studying attachment behaviour.
Bowlby’s theory is on the right general lines, even if several predictions from his theory have only limited support.
Very convenient in a post war world to suggest that women should be at home with the children.

Many nurseries were closed as a result.

The theory is too strongly and dogmatically expressed.
However . . .
Rutter (1972)
Not all experiences of deprivation are the same. Some are in fact "Privation" - where no attachment has ever been formed.
Rutter and ERA (1998) and O'Conner et al. (2000)
Orphans with severe deprivation can show significant attachment with good quality care.
Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that 31% of 18 – month - old infants had five or more attachments. Most infants form two or more strong attachments at a relatively early age.
Monotropy - little evidence
Critical Period -little evidence
Evidence for attachment as a template or pattern for the future relationships is low.

Evidence for a “Critical Period” is low, but does point towards a “Sensitive Period”.
Born: 26 February 1907, London, England.
Fourth of six children.
Brought up by a Nanny, as this was the tradition of the time.
Saw his mother for about one hour a day, as any more was considered to lead to "dangerous spoiling"!
Rarely saw his father, (John's father lost his father when only 5!).
When Bowlby was almost four years old his nanny, his primary caretaker, left the family.
At the age of seven, he was sent off to boarding school, as was common for boys of his social status.
He later said, "I wouldn't send a dog away to boarding school at age seven".
Studied Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Trained as a doctor at University College, London.
After qualifying he trained at the Maudsley Hospital to become a psychoanalyst.
During WWII he served in the RAMC.
After the war he became Deputy Director of the Tavistock Clinic, London.
Consultant to the World Health Organisation
Early Life
Education and Career
Temperament Theory - Kagan, 1984
The personality or temperament of the infant shapes a mother's response to the baby.
Thomas and Chess (1977) identified three basic personality types in infants: Easy, Difficult and Slow-to-warm-up.
Bokhorst et al., (2003) found identical twins (genetically the same) had greater similarities in temperament than non-identical twins.
Belsky and Rovine (1987) assessed one to three day old babies and found a link between certain physiological behaviours and later attachments. Calmer and less anxious infants were more likely to be securely attached.
Hodges and Tizard (1989)
Studied 65 "Institutionalised" children, 24 carers before the age of two and 50 before the age of four!
24 were adopted and 15 returned to own family.
At age 16 the adopted children had normal family relationships whilst those returned to their own families showed little affection for their parents and their parents showed little affection for them.
Both groups of adolescents were less likely to have a special friend or to regard other adolescents as sources of emotional support.
The adopted children were better adjusted than would have been predicted by Bowlby.
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