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Learning Theory of Attachment

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A01 & A02 In 1950, Dollard and Miller proposed the learning theory of attachment. This was based on the theories of the behaviourism operant and classical conditioning). This is where the infant forms an attachment with the caregiver by forming an association. Food and milk brings pleasure and an end to discomfort (primary reinforcement), and the infant begins to associate these feelings with the person who brings them, the caregiver (secondary reinforcement). In terms of operant conditioning, crying brings food, and food brings pleasure (positive reinforcement) ...read more.


This theory is often called the 'cupboard love' theory, as it concludes that attachments between infant and caregiver are formed because of the infant's need for food. According to this theory, no food would mean no attachment. However, a study by Harlow (1959) suggests that attachments are not formed merely on the basis of association between food and caregiver. Harlow put a baby monkey in a room with a 'food mum' and a 'comfort mum', and the study shows that the baby monkey only went to the food mum when it was hungry, but spent the majority of time with the comfort mum, implying that attachments are not solely formed through the need for food. ...read more.


Ainsworth (1970) also suggests that attachments are formed through caregiver sensitivity. This was suggested from the study 'The Strange Situation', when an infant was faced with varying degrees of interaction and desertion from the caregiver and a stranger. Ainsworth found that your child would be more likely to be securely attached if you were sensitive and caring. This is supported by the work of Schaffer and Emerson (1964) who found that the first attachment of babies was not to the person who carried out physical care, such as feeding and changing the baby, but by those who are sensitive and rewarding to the baby. ...read more.

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