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Outline and evaluate the learning theory of attachment

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´╗┐Outline and evaluate the learning theory of attachment (12 marks) The learning theory, or behaviourist approach, is based on the idea that we are born as blank slates -?tabula rasa?- and that we learn all our behaviour through the process of association. The theory suggests that the process of association is applied through classical and operant conditioning, and they create attachments between infant and caregiver. Firstly, operant conditioning is the idea that behaviours that produce a reward (positive reinforcement) or behaviours that will stop something unpleasant (negative reinforcement) will be repeated. For example, in 1950 Dollard and Miller came up with a process of operant conditioning that supports the idea that food is why we form attachments. ...read more.


Furthermore, classical conditioning is the idea that we learn through association with other things, or stimulus-response explanation. An example of the process is the stimulus of milk (unconditioned stimulus ? UCS) produces a response of pleasure (unconditioned response ? UCR). Before conditioning, the mother who is a neutral stimulus who provides the milk becomes associated with the milk (NS+UCS), and this still gives a pleasurable response (UCR). After the conditioning, the mother becomes a conditioned stimulus who is the source of pleasure even without milk, and this is the basis of the attachment bond. In evaluation, one criticism of the learning theory is that food may not be the main reinforcer. ...read more.


In 1964, Schaffer and Emerson conducted an experiment on 60 children from Glasgow every 4 weeks. They found that babies were attached to people who were not involved in their physical care, such as fathers and that in 39% of cases the mother/caregiver was not the infants main attachment figure. This undermines the learning theory as it shows that feeding is not the only reason for attachment formation. Furthermore, Lastly, the learning theory can be seen as reductionist, as it reduces the complex nature of human behaviour down to its simplest terms. Bowlby in 1973 also reported that infants only need feeding a few times a day, but continually need emotional security that attachment figures provide. This suggests that food is not the main reason for the formation of attachments. ...read more.

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