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.