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John bowlbys theory of attachment

This assignment will outline John Bowlby’s theory of attachment and will include various studies with the intention of providing further aspects of attachment, thus enabling this piece of work to critically consider Bowlby’s theory. Following extensive research, it will outline criticisms and inconsistencies when referring to Bowlby’s theory.

Bowlby was influenced by people such as Lorenz (1935) who used ethology and discovered imprinting, showing that animals form and immediate bond with the first object they encounter. Bowlby believed that attachment was innate and promotes survival. Although these studies were found in animals, Bowlby believed that it occurred in humans. However, his ideas of evolution were difficult to test; therefore there is a lack of evidence to back up his ideas. (Eysenck 2003)

Bowlby’s theory suggested the innate function of attachment through his monotropy hypothesis. This is where the neonate has an automatic need for one main attachment figure; namely the mother. The attachment between the neonate and infant, according to Bowlby, is unique and the mother possesses maternal instincts, which include providing food. Bowlby does not concentrate on the father. (Walsh 2008) It appears that some evidence does not support Bowlby’s claims. According to Schaffer and Emerson (1964) who observed infants in Glasgow, the attachment bond can occur with several attachment figures, for example, fathers and siblings, where the attachment is of equal quality. Therefore, Schaffer and Emerson’s (1964) findings do not support Bowlby’s claims. (Davenport 1997) Thomas (1998) suggested that it may be more beneficial to have a network of close attachments. (Eysenck 2003)

In variation to Bowlby’s ideas that a neonate attaches to the mother for food, (thus survival), Harlow (1959) suggested ideas (which inspired Bowlby’s attachment research) He said there was a need for comforting contact which is ‘as basic the need for food’. (Gross 2010) Harlow (1959) came to this conclusion through his experiment with Rhesus monkeys where the infants clung to a surrogate mother made from soft, cuddly terry cloth, rather than a mother made from wire who provided food. (Gross 2010)

Bowlby suggested that neonates have instincts to form an attachment and genetically display behaviours such as crying, smiling and gazing. These are known as social releasers. According to Bowlby, these functions stimulate responses from the mother who instinctively provides care and security. (Eysenck 2003)

According to Bowlby, the first two and a half years of a child’s life is a critical and sensitive period in which a quality attachment should have been formed. Bowlby believed that an attachment should form around five months old and onwards. By the age of seven months, all infants should have formed an attachment. Object permanence should have occurred by this point, which aids the attachment process. (Cardwell et al 2005)

When an attachment has been formed it can be observed in many ways. An infant will show separation distress, orientation towards the attachment figure and seeking this figure when distressed. Bowlby suggested that an infant will use the attachment figure as a secure base, whereby the infant can explore but then return for safety and security, emphasising the importance of the quality of care. The ideas of a secure base were also identified by Ainsworth (1978). She developed the ‘Strange Situation’ study which observed infants reactions to a stranger being present at different times, focusing on separation anxiety and stranger fear. She observed attachment types and concluded, as Bowlby did, that an infant can have secure or insecure attachments. Ainsworth identified attachments as secure, avoidant and resistant – the latter two being insecure. Main and Solomon (1986) suggested disorganised as insecure attachment. (Eysenck 2003) Insecure attachment causes disorders and can result in, for example, dwarfism. (Semple et al 2007)

Bowlby stated that ‘Mother love in infancy and childhood is as important for mental health as are nutrients and proteins for physical health’. (Bowlby 1951) (Walsh 2008) Bowlby suggested that if the infant’s early attachment was broken or disrupted by loss or separation, or a failure of attachment occurred, it would have negative, irreversible consequences later on in life. This main concept of Bowlby’s theory is referred to as his maternal deprivation. Bowlby believed that the maternal deprivation would result in, reduced intelligence, affectionless psychopathy and delinquency. (Gross 2010) Affectionless psychopathy is the inability to show affection for others or show any guilt for their actions. (Davenport 1997)

Bowlby believed that the attachment bond in the early years was important for the process of socialisation. In support of his belief he completed a study known as the ‘Forty Four Thieves Study’ (1944). In his clinic Bowlby interviewed forty four adolescent thieves and another group of forty four children, who were not thieves and compared their results. Bowlby also interviewed the parents of all involved in the study. His aim was to investigate whether infants who suffered maternal deprivation would grow up to be thieves. His findings showed that more than half the juvenile thieves had been separated from their mothers during the first years of life. He discovered that several of the thieves showed affectionless psychopathy. None of the other forty four children whom he compared them with showed affectionless psychopathy. (Gross 2010) As this was investigated retrospectively, their memories may not be accurate and it could be argued that there was bias as Bowlby conducted the study, made his own conclusions and diagnosed affectionless psychopathy. Another criticism is that there may have been other aspects that affect the childrens’ behaviour, for example their education, environment, income and diet. Bowlby did not question the reasons for separation nor did he study children who had been separated but did not attend the clinic. Another point Bowlby did not investigate were the reasons why the remaining thieves, who had no experience of maternal deprivation, still became delinquents.

There were studies which supported Bowlby’s maternal deprivation, for example, Goldfarb (1943) who looked at children growing up in an institution, and also Rene Spitz and Katherine Wolf (1940) who observed mothers in the penal institution caring for their babies in their first year. (Davenport 2007) However, there were studies that disagreed with Bowlby. An example is Rutter who studied a group of delinquents on the Isle of Wight and found no connection between delinquency and separation from the mother. (Davenport 2007) There are also studies on adoption (Tizard, Rees, and Hodges) and studies on fostering (James and Joyce Robertson) that discovered it was not maternal deprivation but the quality of care and the responsiveness of the main carer that affected development. (Davenport 2007) There are also criticisms as Bowlby did not differentiate between privation (lack of attachment) and deprivation (break or loss of attachment).

Another example of support for Bowlby’s maternal deprivation was a different aspect of Harlow’s experiment with Rhesus monkeys. Harlow isolated the monkeys from their mother and he discovered that when the monkeys were reintroduced to other monkeys, they cowered in the corner and did not have the ability to socialise, thus causing some anti-social behaviour. These monkeys had never formed an attachment, thus experienced privation. Rutter (1981) disagreed with Bowlby relating his work to Harlow’s because Harlow studied privation, whereas Bowlby studied deprivation. Also, Harlow used an experimentation method, while Bowlby used an observational method.

Bowlby recognised there were stages of distress when infants experience deprivation. First there were stages of distress, then despair, followed by detachment. He called these his PDD model, although this could be criticised and argued with due to cross-cultural variations of attachment. Cross-cultural studies revealed different types of attachment. For example, Japanese infants are rarely separated from their mothers; they sleep with their infants and have bodily contact all day; therefore Bowlby’s PDD model may differ in Japanese culture. (Gardener et al 2008) Goldberg (2000) stated ‘cross-cultural settings require ultimate knowledge of child-rearing customs and goals’. (Gross 2010) It is important to take into account cross-cultural variations as ‘child interactions and relationships are influenced by the environment which they take place in’. (Gardiner et al 2008)

Further criticisms of Bowlby’s theory are case studies of privation where although extreme privation has taken place, the infant or child eventually develops positively into adulthood. Examples of these case studies are Koluchova (1972) who reported the ‘Case of the Czech Twins’ and in 1997 the ‘Case of Mary and Louise’ (Gross 1992)

Concepts in Bolwby’s theory suggest the importance of responses from attachment figures. Early relationships will have an effect on the child’s own parenting behaviour and other relationships which they form because the quality of an attachment may affect psychological development in later years. Infants and children will use their first attachment to form an idea of how future relationships should be. This is their internal working model. Children who experience a secure, loving, reliable and quality attachment will transfer these qualities to future relationships. (Davenport 1997)

Some aspects of Bowlby’s theory have had positive effects on hospitals, which recognised the importance of preventing a break in the attachment bond; therefore changes have been made to accommodate both infant and carer. Bowlby’s theory can be criticised in more recent years. For example, Professor Susan Golombok’s research focuses on assisted reproduction and same sex parents. ‘Contrary to concerns, the parents had positive relationships with their children and the children themselves were functioning well’. (Gross 2010)

In conclusion Bowlby’s theory uncovered a complex subject in child development, which has spanned many years. His work has influenced others into looking at different aspects of attachment. Bowlby’s theory of attachment will continue to be referred to in many different areas of child development.

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