Outline and evaluate the learning theory of attachment. (12 marks)

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Outline and evaluate the learning theory of attachment. (12 marks)

Learning theory, or behaviourist approach, proposes that we are born as blank slates and we learn to form attachments through the process of association. The process of association is applied through two principles, the principles of operant and classical conditioning.

Operant conditioning involves learning behaviours through punishments and rewards. It states that any behaviour that is rewarded with something pleasant will be repeated (positive reinforcement), similarly any behaviour that takes away something unpleasant will be repeated (negative reinforcement). So when a baby is hungry it will cry and be fed by the mother, the baby has learnt that the behaviour (crying) takes away the unpleasant feelings (hunger) so has learnt to repeat the behaviour (negative reinforcement). Operant conditioning means attachment is reciprocal. The baby crying is unpleasant to the mother so she will feed the child to take away the unpleasant sound. The basis of this is that food is the main reason why we form attachments.

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The second key principle of the learning theory is classical conditioning in explaining why attachments are formed. This is the idea that we learn through association. Milk is an unconditioned stimulus to the baby, which produces an unconditioned response of happiness or pleasure. The mother is a neutral stimulus, but, as the mother provides the baby with milk the baby learns to associate the mother with the feelings of please so she becomes a conditioned stimulus, soon she alone brings feelings of happiness in the child, a conditioned response. And so an attachment is formed.

The learning theory provides ...

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