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Discuss the learning theory explanation of attachment.

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Introduction

´╗┐Discuss the learning theory explanation of attachment. (12 marks) Attachment is a deep emotional bond between the child and the principle caregiver. Attached infants will show a desire to be close to their primary caregiver (usually the biological mother). They?ll show distress when they are separated and pleasure when they are reunited. Learning Theory links attachment to pleasure. This is also known as a behaviourist theory, and focuses on the baby wanting its needs to be fulfilled. Conditioning is given as an explanation of how attachments form. There are two conditionings and they are classical conditioning which is learning by associations in the environment. Getting food naturally gives the baby pleasure. ...read more.

Middle

Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that many infants didn?t have strong attachments with their mother even though she fed them. Good quality interaction with the babies seemed to be more important. The babies will attach to whoever is the most sensitive and loving. This is also shown in Harlow?s study, love in infant monkeys. Harlow (1959) aimed to find out whether babies monkeys would prefer a source of food or source of comfort and protection in attachment behaviour. In laboratory experiments rhesus monkeys were raised in isolation. They had two `surrogate` mothers one was made out of wire mesh and contained a feeding bottle, the other had but didn?t contain a feeding bottle. ...read more.

Conclusion

Monkeys are social animals, so it was unfair to keep them in isolation. The fact that they were in isolation also means that the study lacked ecological validity- the monkeys weren?t in their natural environment, so the results can?t be reliably applied to real life. Laboratory experiments can usually be replicated, but ethical guidelines now in place mean that you couldn?t repeat this study today to see whether you get the same results. One strength of the learning theory is that we do learn through conditioning, although food not the only factor (attention and responsiveness also important). One weakness of the learning theory is that Harlow showed that food is less important than contact comfort, supported by Schaffer and Emerson (1964) who found infants not necessarily attached to the adult who fed them. ...read more.

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