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Outline and Evaluate the Learning Theory of Attachment

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´╗┐According to learning theory, infants learn to form a single attachment to their primary caregiver through classical conditioning and operant conditioning (Dollard and Miller 1950). Classical conditioning is when the infant learns that the feeder (neutral stimulus, usually the mother) usually comes with being fed (unconditioned stimulus), and therefore associates the mother with the pleasurable feeling of being fed (unconditioned response). When the attachment has been learned, the infant feels pleasure when the mother is present. The mother is now the conditioned stimulus and the pleasure in the presence of the mother is the unconditioned response. Operant conditioning is when the infant learns that certain behaviours (like crying when hungry) bring desirable responses from the mother that relieve them from the uncomfortable state (like attention, comfort, and feeding). Over time the infant associates the pleasure of relieving the hunger with crying (negative reinforcement) ...read more.


most often with the mother, he also suggests that millions of years of evolution have produced an innate behaviour for infants to form attachments, called social releasers (behaviours that are intended to initiate interaction and unlock adults? tendency to care for infants), as if they didn?t form attachments with caregivers, they would not be fed and comforted and therefore would not survive to reproductive age. Attachments would also have to be formed within a critical period (up to 2 and a half years of age) or no attachment would be formed. This undermines the learning theory of attachment that infants have to learn to form attachments; they are not innate and biologically pre-programmed. For example, Schaffer and Emerson (1964) did a longitudinal study of the attachments formed by 60 infants in the first 18 months of life, at monthly intervals. ...read more.


This study goes against the learning theory of attachment, and suggests that attachment is in fact innate and biologically pre-programmed. It also supports the idea of the critical period; as if no attachment had developed within a certain number of hours then it was unlikely that any attachment would ever develop. Harlow (1958) also experimented with attachments formed between rhesus monkeys and surrogate mothers, made from wire. In each case there were two surrogate wire mothers, one provided food, and the other provided comfort, made from soft cloth. He found that the monkeys would cuddle up to the cloth monkeys when distressed, and spend the majority of their time with them, only leaving to go to the wire surrogate when hungry. This undermines learning theory, as the monkeys did not spend much time with the mother that provided them with food, they instinctively went to the cloth mother for comfort and when distressed, suggesting that attachment in rhesus monkeys is innate, and they don't link food with pleasure. ...read more.

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