Describe and evaluate two approaches/theories in Developmental Psychology
This essay will attempt to outline and evaluate the evolutionary and behaviourist approach of attachment theory which although coined by John Bowlby, was later elaborated further by a host of other researchers. It will incorporate the nature vs nurture debate throughout which is an indispensable concept that is embedded in the different approaches within developmental psychology.
Attachment theory is a fundamental paradigm of the study of inter-relationships within the field of psychology, particularly in relation to infantile emotional attachment to their mother or caregiver.
This infant-caregiver attachment is central to a child’s development as suggested by The London Journal of Primary care. It states, “the brain development of infants (as well as their social, emotional and cognitive development) depends on a loving bond or attachment relationship with a primary caregiver, usually a parent” (Winston, 2016).
To understand the concept of attachment theory, it is important to define that “attachment can be understood as being the enduring emotional closeness which binds families in order to prepare children for independence and parenthood” (Rees, 2007).
Attachment theory originates from the influential work of John Bowlby, a British psychologist, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Bowlby’s amalgamation of ethology, psychoanalysis and developmental psychology contributed to an architecture that could provide understanding into identity formation, self-regulation and interpersonal attitudes and behaviours. Bowlby posited that man are biologically predisposed to form an attachment to primary caregivers and this innate, instinctive drive is an adaptive behaviour that increases the probability of survival and procreation.
Bowlby’s explanation of innate attachment was illustrated by the work of Harry Harlow, an American psychologist, who conducted a series of controversial experiments with monkeys. One experiment of Harlow’s involved eight infant rhesus monkeys, that were separated from their biological mothers a few hours from birth. They were placed in cages with two kinds of ‘surrogate mothers’, one made from bare wire mesh, equipped to dispense milk while the other was blanketed in a soft terry cloth that provided no nourishment. Harlow observed that the infant monkeys spent significantly more time clinging to the ‘mother’ covered with soft terry cloth suggesting that attachment was not principally concerned with hunger but rather an innate overwhelming importance of comfort. “Bowlby profited highly from Harlow’s experimental work with rhesus monkeys” (Van der Horst, 2008) however Harlow’s experiment was denounced for restricted worth in venturing to understand the effects of maternal deprivation in human infants, due to physiological differences between humans and animals, therefore the findings can’t be generalised. The experiment also lacked ecological validity due to a highly controlled laboratory setting. Furthermore, Harlow separated infant monkeys from their biological mothers which could be deemed highly unethical.
Bowlby believed that the infant has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure, monotropy. He argued that this attachment, commonly between mother and infant, would enable development of an internal working model and emotional matureness if it developed within the ‘critical’ period (0-2 years) which he later changed to ‘sensitive’ period (0-5years). Bowlby’s concept of monotropy was challenged by Rudolf Schaffer and Peggy Emerson, developmental psychologists, in their longitudinal study ‘Glasgow babies’. Schaffer and Emerson discovered that babies made multiple attachments which were not invariably with the mother, as Bowlby implied, but with those who were most responsive to their needs.
Bowlby tested his idea of monotropy in his maternal deprivation hypothesis by conducting his own research ’44 Juvenile Thieves’. Bowlby studied 44 child delinquents accused of stealing, he compared them to a control group of adolescents who were deemed emotionally disturbed but didn’t steal. Bowlby established that a high percentage of the child delinquents, accused of stealing, had experienced early and lengthened separations from the mother, he diagnosed them with affectionless psychopathy. In conclusion Bowlby suggested that the disruption or failure to establish a secure monotropic attachment may be detrimental to an infant’s intellectual, social and emotional development in adulthood, as opposed to a secure attachment that may construct a positive working model of self and others. Furthermore, anxious or avoidant attachments may dictate a maladaptive attachment style in future relationships, which is supported by Hazan and Shaver’s ‘continuity hypothesis’ in their study ‘the love quiz’. Bowlby’s research could only provide retrospective data on the participants which lack reliability and validity. Furthermore, Bowlby designed and executed the studies himself which could present vulnerability to experimenter bias.
Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis was challenged by Sir Michael Rutter, a British professor of psychopathology. Informed by his Isle of Wight study, Rutter argued that “The term maternal deprivation is misleading in that in most cases the deleterious influences are not specifically tied to the mother and are not due to deprivation” (Rutter, 1972). Rutter distinguished between deprivation and privation and argued that symptoms of ‘affectionless psychopathy’ or distortions in social and emotional development cannot be limited to the lack of monotropic attachment. Factors such as social experience or reduced intellectual stimulation must be considered.
Bowlby’s theory contradicted the influential behavioural approach of attachment that advocated that behaviour is learnt, as opposed to the inherent concept of the evolutionary perspective.
Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist introduced the concept of classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning. Pavlov’s idea of classical conditioning derived through salivation in dogs in response to being fed. He observed that the dogs assumed him to be the feeder and would salivate when he walked into a room, even without food. From this Pavlov coined the concept of unconditioned response which he stated was a stimulus-response connection based on instinct and required no learning.
Introducing an unconditional stimulus (UCS) or food to the dog will produce an unconditioned response (UCR) or salivation when a neutral stimulus (NS) namely the feeder is paired with the UCS repeatedly an association is made between the UCS and the NS.
The NS then becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) and the CS eventually becomes a trigger and presenting the CS alone without UCS will result in a conditioned response (CR). Some would argue that Pavlov’s reductionist explanation of behaviour lacks validity by reason of focusing on small fragments of conduct that may lead to incomplete explanations. Furthermore, much like Harlow’s experiments, the physiological differences between animals and humans must be considered when examining behaviour.
Burrus Frederick Skinner further extended Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory and coined the term operant conditioning. Skinner suggested that behaviours that are positively reinforced will be recurrent. Dollard and Miller, American psychologists, supported the idea of classical and operant conditioning and applied these concepts to the attachment theory.
Dollard and Miller asserted that “Human behaviour is learnt; precisely that behaviour which is widely felt to characterize man as a rational being, or as a member of a particular nation or social classais rather than innate” (Miller and Dollard, 1964). They conceptualized the idea that infants are ‘tabula Rosa’ a blank slate and would learn through associations via different stimuli, predominantly food. This would provide for their physiological needs thus producing an unconditioned response in the form of pleasure. Classic conditioning, learning through association meant that a mother would become a conditioned stimulus.
Operant conditioning describes the process of attachment through a reciprocal process whereby the presence of the caregiver is enriching for the infant. Dollard and Miller conceptualised the secondary drive hypothesis which suggests that essential primary drives that allow survival, primarily food, leads to a secondary drive association such as emotional connectedness. The extended theory assumes that within the reciprocal relationship between infant and caregiver, the latter must also learn through a process of negative reinforcement, whereby the caregiver feels rapture since the infant is no longer perturbed.
Although there is without doubt, a considerable value in an infant – caregiver relationship the marginalisation of other relationships in attachment theory may limit attachment behaviours that only occur with the primary caregiver. Attachment theory focuses principally on the mother who in many instances the primary caregiver, giving fathers no inherent value. In addition, “parenting manuals based on Bowlby’s theory prioritise the bond between mother and child, side-line the fathers and keep women away from work” (Duschinsky, 2015). It is necessary to argue that children are influenced by a number of people who extend far beyond the nuclear family, for example peers or teachers who play a crucial role in shaping a child’s development. Attachment theory encompasses both nature and nurture explanations of behaviour. John Bowlby’s attachment theory presents evolutionary bias just as the learning theory supports that behaviour is learned. It is proposed that nature is the genetics that are passed down from parents that shape a child’s character or personality. Nurture is considered to be the external influences that govern a child’s behaviour according to their socialization. This concept better represents how some children are more susceptible to external influences than others, based on their genetic makeup or why other children form secure attachment and others don’t. “A niche defines the pattern of behaviour – the adaptive repertoire- compatible with an organism’s survival and reproduction. A niche doesn’t tell an organism how to behave. It punishes it, by death or reproductive failure” (Staddon, n.d.)
Duschinsky, R. (2015). The Politics of Attachment: Lines of Flight with Bowlby, Deleuze and Guattari. online Repository.cam.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1810/254432/Duschinsky%20et%20al%202015%20Theory,%20Culture%20%26%20Society.pdf?sequence=1;isAllowed=y Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.
Miller, N. and Dollard, J. (1964). Social learning and imitation. New Haven: Yale University Press, p.26.
Rees, C. (2007). Childhood attachment. online British Journal of General Practice. Available at: https://bjgp.org/content/57/544/920 Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.
Rutter, M. (1972). Maternal deprivation reconsidered. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 16(4), pp.241-250.
Staddon, J. (n.d.). Adaptive Behavior and Learning. p.44.
Van der Horst, F. (2008). (PDF) “When strangers meet”: John Bowlby and Harry Harlow on attachment behavior. online ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282649240_When_strangers_meet_John_Bowlby_and_Harry_Harlow_on_attachment_behavior Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.
Winston, R. (2016). The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children. online Tandfonline.com. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17571472.2015.1133012 Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.