Theories of attachment

Cognitive-developmental theory

Attachment depends on intellectual development. The infant must be capable, at a cognitive level, of distinguishing between familiar and unfamiliar people and recognising that key attachment figures are permanent even in their absence (object permanence).

Attachments are biological. We are born with 'signals' that have evolved to encourage attachment, so it is an evolutionary process that ensures survival. It is an instinct, and Lorenz (1937) found that animals will 'imprint' (follow the attachment object instinctively from birth) during a critical period, and that this is automatic and irreversible.

Ethology

Learning theory

Attachment is a learned process (due to nurture). Infants attach because of classical conditioning - they attach to the mother because she is associated with providing food and attention. So the infant learns to attach to this person based on the associations that are made. Learning theory suggests that a child learns to form an attachment because they experience a desire for food as soon as they are born. They have a need to reduce the drive state (so, to be fed). This is a primary drive because it is innate and arises from a biological need. The child therefore soon learns that food is a reward (it stops them being hungry). This is called a primary reinforcer. Quickly the mother becomes a secondary reinforcer because the child associates her with the food. However, the mother also offers security and contact comfort. She is warm, sensitive and responsive and therefore a secondary drive is created, by which the child seeks the mother because she is comforting. Attachment is a two-way process because when the child also responds to the mother (for example 'coo', smiling) the mother will seek repeated interaction, often during the feeding process, in the first stage of a child's life.

Bowlby's theory

The adult/caregiver is genetically programmed to form an attachment with the infant in order to protect it. Attachment gives the child the opportunity to be around adults and therefore provides a safe base from which the infant can explore the world. The attachment develops between the infant and caregiver because the infant displays 'social releasers' - these are behaviours that elicit/produce a reaction from the caregiver, and include crying, smiling, etc. Attachment is a biological (innate) process and there is a critical period of development. This means that if the attachment is not formed within the first 2.5 years it will not occur at all. A 'monotrophic bond' is formed - that is a special bond with just one other person. The mother is therefore unique. Bowlby believes that if this bond is not formed, or is broken, then there will be permanent emotional damage because children only develop socially and emotionally when an attachment provides them with feelings of security. High self-esteem and emotional and social development are therefore derived from having a sensitive, emotionally responsive and supportive caregiver with whom the child has developed an attachment (the internal working model). If the child does not have an attachment then they will not develop emotionally (maternal deprivation hypothesis). Affectionless psychopathy may result, where there is a lack of emotional development, a lack of concern for others, a lack of guilt and an inability to form lasting relationships.

REMEMBER

Theories of attachment

Attachment can be the result of:

> maturing cognitions

> an evolutionary and instinctive process

> an innate need to form a monotrophic bond

> learning that it brings satisfaction and comfort

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