Explanations of Attachment
A01: The evolutionary theory of attachment was proposed by Bowlby (1969) who suggested that attachment was important for our survival and that infants are born with an innate tendency to form an attachment that serves to increase their chance of survival. It is proposed that attachment has derived through natural selection and is a process of nature.
Bowlby’s theory of attachment consists of three main components.
One component is innate programming, this suggests that all psychological and physical characteristics are naturally selected to help us survive and reproduce.
It also suggests that if a child does not form an attachment during a critical period, then it would not be possible thereafter.
The continuity hypothesis is another component of evolutionary theory suggesting that relationships with one special attachment figure (monotropy) provides an infant with an internal working model of relationships, that is, a structure as to how future attachments are formed.
A02: Evaluation of the evolutionary explanation
One strength of Bowlby's research is that there is evidence to support the continuity hypothesis. Sruofe et al (1999) found that securely attached infants were rated by teacher, trained observers and camp counsellors as more popular, having more initiative and being higher in social esteem. These findings support the internal working model.
Additionally McCarthy (1999) also found support for the continuity hypothesis as it was found that in women attachment was associated with relationships in later life.
A methodological flaw with Bowlby’s study was that he used a very small sample size, and the data he obtained from them was based on retrospective accounts. He also assumed that primary caregivers were mothers, therefore omitting to carry out any research with fathers or siblings, thus making his research gynocentric.
Two final criticisms of Bowlby’s research are that it was reductionist, because it reduced complex behaviours of attachment to a simple explanation of serving survival needs, and that it was deterministic as it argues that attachment behaviours are innate/pre-determined , therefore involving no free-will.
A final weakness of the evolutionary explanation is that there is research which has led to the renaming of the critical period to become the sensitive period.
Rutter et al (1998) Studied infants who were abandoned or orphaned and raised in institutions in Eastern Europe prior to adoption in the UK and US. It was found that these adoptees were able to form attachments after their first birthday however, the later the children were adopted the slower the development This demonstrates that attachment may take place outside of the critical period.
A01: Behavioural explanations
Suggest that all human behaviour is learnt as we are born with a blank slate.
Learning theory suggests that we aquire all behaviours through nurture.In the behaviourist explanation of attachment there are 2 main assumptions; classical and operant conditioning.
Classical conditioning suggests that we form attachments through associations.
The stimulus of milk (UCS) produces a response of pleasure (UCR). The primary caregiver, who provides the milk becomes associated with the milk and becomes the conditioned stimulus, then also becomes a source of pleasure which is the basis of the attachment.
Operant conditioning Dollard and Miller (1950) support the idea that food/milk is always the basis of attachment.
In Operant conditioning we learn attachment behaviours through negative reinforcement.
When the infant is hungry they enter a drive state that makes them cry (a social releaser). Being fed satisfies the hunger and therefore is relieving for the child. The primary caregiver is the source of reinforcement and therefore an attachment bond is made to them.
A02: Evaluation of the learning theory explanation
As an evaluation of the learning theory of attachment, Harlow suggests that attachment is not always based on feeding. Evidence of this comes from their experiments investigating the attachment of baby monkeys, and the observation that the monkeys became attached to surrogate ‘cloth’ mothers, more than wire surrogates that provided milk for them.
However, when considering this research it is important to note that there are problems using animals in research as findings cannot be extrapolated to humans, and the experiments were not always ethical in their treatment of the animals.