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Psychology A: history and Analysis of Selected Topics

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Essay title: Psychology A: history and Analysis of Selected Topics

Psychology A: History and Analysis of Selected Topics

LO3 Developmental Processes

‘the reason why the infant in arms wants to perceive the presence of its mother is only because it already knows by experience that she satisfies all needs without delay’

(Freud, 1924)

The term attachment refers to an intense emotional relationship between individuals. Freud believed that attachments were formed with those who satisfy our material needs. This theory is referred to as ‘cupboard love’ theory. Behaviourist psychologists support this theory, arguing that attachments are formed through the process of classical conditioning, where babies learn that mothers supply food, which makes them feel satisfied and eventual associate their mothers with the feeling of satisfaction without food being required. Many psychologists have researched this topic in order to understand why and how attachments are made, if it can be as simple as simple as Freud and the behaviourists claimed. They have also examined what the effects of forming attachments and what are the consequences of not forming these relationships.

One study which challenged the ‘cupboard love’ theory was H.F. Harlow’s study ‘Love in infant monkeys’. This study was conducted in 1959 as a laboratory experiment.

Eight rhesus monkeys were separated from their mothers within hours of their birth. Each monkey was given two substitute ‘mothers’. One was made of cloth, the other made of wire. Half the monkeys received milk from the cloth mother while the other half received milk from the wire mother. All of the monkeys however spent the majority of their time with the cloth mother, only going to the wire mother for milk when and if required. Harlow also frightened the monkey occasionally with loud mechanical toys. When this happened again all the monkeys sought comfort from the cloth mother. From the study Harlow concluded that physical contact was more important than feeding in the development of emotional bonds.

After the monkeys were monitored after the study and all had difficulty mating and became rejecting mothers. It can therefore also be concluded that physical contact alone is not enough for healthy development.

This however was a laboratory experiment on animals which aside from the ethical considerations there are various problems. Firstly the laboratory is an unnatural environment for the animals there fore their behaviour may also be applicable to their natural habitat. More importantly though is the fact that they are animals. We cannot conclude that the behaviour of the monkeys could be at all representative of the development of humans. This study did raise some questions for future investigation such as ‘what are the effects of not forming healthy attachment in early life?’, however the results are not conclusive about human attachments.

John Bowlby considered the possible effects when working on his ‘Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis’. In 1946 Bowlby conducted a study of forty-four juvenile thieves. He wanted to see if habitual delinquency could be explained in terms of early separation between mother and child relationships.

For this study, as well as the forty-four delinquents (who had been referred to a child guidance clinic), he also studied forty-four emotionally disturbed teenagers who had not been involved in crime as a control group. He gathered retrospective and current case histories of each participant. From the case histories he found that many of the delinquent group has an ‘affectionless’ character, meaning that they displayed a lack of normal affection, guilt or feeling of responsibility. Eighty-six percent of the affectionless teenagers, approximately half of the delinquent group, had spent at least six months away from their mothers before the age of two. From the control group only two out of the forty-four had experienced separation of this length.

Bowlby concluded that the reason for the ‘affectionless’ character, or ‘affectionless psychopathy’, was due to separation from their mothers. Therefore he claimed that criminal behaviour was often related to separation from the mother.

This study has been heavily criticised for various reasons. Firstly, since the information was gathered retrospectively, it could be unreliable or incomplete. Some of the participants were only separated from their mothers for a very short time and so it is difficult to see how it could have any impact on their development. It is also argued that Bowlby selected information that supported his argument and neglected to consider other possible causes for the delinquent behaviour. For example why were the children separated from their mother in the

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