A-Level Psychology Attachment

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What do the examiners look for?

  • Accurate and detailed knowledge
  • Clear, coherent, and focused answers
  • Effective use of terminology (use the “technical terms”)

In application questions, examiners look for “effective application to the scenario” which means that you need to describe the theory and explain the scenario using the theory making the links between the two very clear. If there is more than one individual in the scenario you must mention all of the characters to get to the top band.

Difference between AS and A level answers

The descriptions follow the same criteria; however, you have to use the issues and debates effectively in your answers. “Effectively” means that it needs to be clearly linked and explained in the context of the answer.

Read the model answers to get a clearer idea of what is needed.


Attachment can be defined as an emotional bond between two people in which each seeks closeness and feels more secure when in the presence of the attachment figure.

Caregiver-Infant Interactions in Humans

Interactions between very young babies and their parents are baby led, with the adult responding to the behavior of the baby.



The word reciprocal means two-way, or something mutual. The infant and caregiver are both active contributors in the interaction and are responding to each other.

Reciprocity is a form of interaction between infant and caregiver involving mutual responsiveness, with both infant and mother responding to each other’s signals, and each elicits a response from the other. Smiling is an example of reciprocity – when a smile occurs in the infant, it triggers a smile in the caregiver and vice versa.


Reciprocity influences the child’s physical, social and cognitive development. It becomes the basis for the development of basic trust or mistrust and shapes how the child will relate to the world, learn, and form relationships throughout life.

Jaffe et al. said that from birth, babies move in a rhythm when interacting with an adult, almost as if they were taking turns as people do when having a conversation.

Interactional Synchrony


Interactional synchrony is when two people interact and tend to mirror what the other is doing in terms of their facial and body movements (emotions and behaviors).

Interactional synchrony is a form of rhythmic interaction between infant and caregiver involving mutual focus, reciprocity, and mirroring of emotion or behavior. Infants coordinate their actions with caregivers in a kind of conversation.

From birth, babies move in a rhythm when interacting with an adult, almost as if they were taking turns. The infant and caregiver are able to anticipate how each other will behave and can elicit a particular response from the other.

For example, a caregiver who laughs in response to their infant’s giggling sound and tickles them is experiencing synchronized interaction.

Interactional synchrony is most likely to develop if the caregiver attends fully to the baby’s state, provides playful stimulation when the infant is alert and attentive, and avoids pushing things when an overexcited or tired infant is fussy and sending the message “Cool it. I just need a break from all this excitement”.


Heimann showed that infants who demonstrate a lot of imitation from birth onwards had been found to have a better quality of relationship at 3 months. However, it isn’t clear whether imitation is a cause or an effect of this early synchrony.

Many studies involving the observation of interactions between mothers and infants have shown the same patterns of interaction. However, what is being observed is merely hand movements or changes in expression. It is extremely difficult to be certain, based on these observations, what is taking place from the infant’s perspective. Is, for example, the infant’s imitation of adult signals conscious and deliberate?

This means that we cannot know for certain that behaviors seen in mother-infant interactions have a special meaning.

Observations of mother-infant interactions are generally well-controlled procedures, with both mother and infant being filmed, often from multiple angles. This ensures that very fine details of behavior can be recorded and later analyzed.

Furthermore, babies don’t know or care that they are being observed, so their behavior does not change in response to controlled observation which is generally a problem for observational research.

This is a strength of this line of research because it means the research has good validity.

Stages of Attachment


Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson (1964) studied 60 babies at monthly intervals for the first 18 months of life (this is known as a longitudinal study ).

The children were all studied in their own homes, and a regular pattern was identified in the development of attachment.  The babies were visited monthly for approximately one year, their interactions with their carers were observed, and carers were interviewed.

A diary was kept by the mother to examine the evidence for the development of an attachment. The following measures were recorded:

• Stranger Anxiety – response to the arrival of a stranger.

Separation Anxiety – distress level when separated from a carer, degree of comfort needed on return.

• Social Referencing – the degree to which a child looks at a carer to check how they should respond to something new (secure base).

They discovered that baby’s attachments develop in the following sequence:

Asocial (0 – 6 weeks)

Very young infants are asocial in that many kinds of stimuli, both social and non-social, produce a favorable reaction, such as a smile.

Indiscriminate Attachments (6 weeks to 7 months)

Infants indiscriminately enjoy human company, and most babies respond equally to any caregiver. They get upset when an individual ceases to interact with them.

From 3 months, infants smile more at familiar faces and can be easily comfortable by a regular caregiver.

Specific Attachment (7 – 9 months)

Special preference for a single attachment figure.  The baby looks to particular people for security, comfort, and protection.  It shows fear of strangers (stranger fear) and unhappiness when separated from a special person (separation anxiety).

Some babies show stranger fear and separation anxiety much more frequently and intensely than others, but nevertheless, they are seen as evidence that the baby has formed an attachment.  This has usually developed by one year of age.

Multiple Attachment (10 months and onwards)

The baby becomes increasingly independent and forms several attachments. By 18 months, the majority of infants have formed multiple attachments.

The study’s results indicated that attachments were most likely to form with those who responded accurately to the baby’s signals, not the person they spent more time with.  Schaffer and Emerson called this sensitive responsiveness.

Intensely attached infants had mothers who responded quickly to their demands and interacted with their children. Infants who were weakly attached had mothers who failed to interact.


The study’s results indicated that attachments were most likely to form with those who responded accurately to the baby’s signals, not the person they spent more time with. Schaffer and Emerson called this sensitive responsiveness.

Intensely attached infants had mothers who responded quickly to their demands and, interacted with their child. Infants who were weakly attached had mothers who failed to interact.

The most important fact in forming attachments is not who feeds and changes the child but who plays and communicates with him or her. Therefore, sensitive responsiveness to the baby’s signals appeared to be the key to the attachment.


The Schaffer and Emerson study has low population validity. The infants in the study all came from Glasgow and were mostly from working-class families. In addition, the small sample size of 60 families reduces the strength of the conclusion we can draw from the study.

However, the accuracy of data collection by parents who were keeping daily diaries while clearly being very busy could be questioned. A diary like this is also very unreliable, with demand characteristics and social desirability being major issues. Mothers are not likely to report negative experiences in their daily write up.

The study lacks historical validity. It was conducted in the 1960s when gender roles were different – Now, more men stay at home to look after their children, and more women go out to work, so the sample is biased.

AO2 Scenario Question

Laura is 7 months old she is looked after by a childminder, Jackie, while her parents are at work.

Recently she has started to show great distress when her mother drops her off and cries inconsolably. Use your knowledge of the stages of development of attachment to explain her behavior.

How long is this behavior likely to last? Explain your answer.

Multiple Attachments


Many of the babies from the Schaffer and Emerson study had multiple attachments by 10 months old, including attachments to mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, and neighbors.

By 18 months, 31% had five or more attachments.  The mother was the main attachment figure for about half of the children at 18 months old and the father for most others.

The multiple attachments formed by most infants vary in their strength and importance to the infant. Attachments are often structured in a hierarchy, whereby an infant may have formed three attachments, but one may be stronger than the other two, and one may be the weakest.


The Schaffer and Emerson study has low population validity. The infants in the study all came from Glasgow and were mostly from working-class families. In addition, the small sample size of 60 families reduces the strength of the conclusion we can draw from the study.

However, the accuracy of data collection by parents who were keeping daily diaries while clearly being very busy could be questioned. A diary like this is also very unreliable, with demand characteristics and social desirability being major issues. Mothers are not likely to report negative experiences in their daily write up.

The study lacks historical validity. It was conducted in the 1960s when gender roles were different – Now, more men stay at home to look after their children, and more women go out to work, so the sample is biased.

The Role of the Father


There is now an expectation in Western cultures that the father should play a greater role in raising children than was previously the case. Also, the number of mothers working full-time has increased in recent decades, and this has also led to fathers having a more active role.

However, whereas mothers usually adopt a more caregiving and nurturing role than fathers, fathers adopt a more play-mate role than mothers. For example, fathers are more likely than mothers to encourage risk-taking in their children by engaging them in physical games.

Most infants prefer contact with their father when in a positive emotional state and wanting to play. In contrast, most infants prefer contact with their mothers when they are distressed and need comfort.


Numerous factors affect the father’s role and his impact on his child’s emotional development. For example, culture, the father’s age, and the amount of time the father spends away from home. The existence of so many factors means it is difficult to make generalizations about the father’s role.

It is possible that most men are not psychologically equipped to form an intense attachment because they lack the emotional sensitivity women offer. Oestrogen underlies caring behavior, and there continue to be sex stereotypes that affect male behavior.

However, Field found that when fathers have the main caregiver role, they adopt behaviors more typical of mothers; therefore, the key to attachment is the level of responsiveness, not the gender of the parent.

Economic implications – Mothers will feel pressured to stay home because research says they are vital for healthy emotional development. Still, in some families, this may not economically be the best solution.

It is not important – McCallum and Golombok found that children growing up in single or same-sex families didn’t develop differently from those in two-parent families – Evidence undermines the idea of fathers having distinct roles.

If the father can be the primary attachment figure, this information should be shared in antenatal classes to ensure fathers play an equal role in childcare. Research can be used to improve the quality of care of infants and to strengthen attachment bonds.

Cultural Factors

There are also cultural differences in the role of the father. Until very recently, men were expected to be breadwinners and not directly involved in their children’s care. However, this might be a stereotypical view rather than reflect reality, as fathers might not have been directly involved in day-to-day care. Still, they were involved in factors like play, instruction, and guidance.

In modern families, fathers are less likely to engage in physical play in middle-class Indian

Social Policy

In the UK, fathers until recently were not given any paternal leave, so the responsibility for child care was implicitly given to the mothers. This could change the attachment the children make with their fathers.

However, this is not the case in every country, so the pattern of attachment between father and children might be different.

Biological factors

Men seem to lack the emotional sensitivity to infant cues (Heerman et al. 1994) that women offer spontaneously. This could be due to the fact that women produce a hormone, estrogen, which increases emotional response to others’ needs. However, Frodi et al. (1978) found that men’s physiological response was the same as women’s.

The child

Age and gender: Freeman et al. (2010) found that male children are likelier to prefer their father as an attachment figure than female children. He also found that children are more likely to be attached to their fathers during their late childhood to early adolescence. Infants and young adults are less likely to seek attachment to their fathers.

Temperament: According to Manlove et al. (2002), fathers are less likely to be involved with their infant if the infant has a difficult temperament.

Animal Studies of Attachment

Discuss the usefulness of animal studies for investigating attachment. [16 marks]




Harlow wanted to study the mechanisms by which newborn rhesus monkeys bond with their mothers.

Harlow using rhesus monkeys, studied attachment. Two wires monkeys with different heads, one wire and the other wrapped in cloth, were placed with eight infant monkeys. With four of the monkeys, the milk was on the cloth-covered wire monkey, and the other four were attached to the plain wire-covered monkey.

Harlow, during the time measurements, found the amount of time the monkeys spent with each wire monkey. The findings concluded that the monkeys spent most of their time with the cloth-covered monkey, which provided contact comfort.

AO2 Scenario Question

In Japan, mothers have great difficulties finding childcare for their babies. Government officials say that “eventually, robots will be able to take up and assume many of these tasks that women are currently doing present”.

Based on Harlow’s research, explain the effects this could have on children.


Harlow’s work has been criticized.  His experiments have been seen as unnecessarily cruel (unethical) and of limited value in attempting to understand the effects of deprivation on human infants.

It was clear that the monkeys in this study suffered from emotional harm from being reared in isolation.  This was evident when the monkeys were placed with a normal monkey (reared by a mother); they sat huddled in a corner in a state of persistent fear and depression.

In addition, Harlow created a state of anxiety in female monkeys, which had implications once they became parents.  Such monkeys became so neurotic that they smashed their infant’s face into the floor and rubbed it back and forth.

Harlow’s experiment is sometimes justified as providing valuable insight into the development of attachment and social behavior. At the time of the research, there was a dominant belief that attachment was related to physical (i.e., food) rather than emotional care.

It could be argued that the benefits of the research outweigh the costs (the suffering of the animals).  For example, the research influenced the theoretical work of John Bowlby, the most important psychologist in attachment theory.  It could also be seen as vital in convincing people about the importance of emotional care in hospitals, children’s homes, and daycare.

Another criticism of Harlow’s study was the confounding variable present within the study. The heads of the two wire monkeys within Harlow’s study varied significantly, which then acted as a confounding variable with the independent variable, which is whether the monkey is clothed or not.

The findings of the study lack internal validity due to the drastic difference in the heads of the monkey. This could suggest that the monkeys possibly chose one wire monkey over the other as they preferred the physical appearance of one monkey over the other.

Both studies were conducted on animals which raises the question of whether it can be generalized to human behavior. Though behaviorists believe that animal behavior can be generalized to human behavior, the behavior displayed by humans differs largely due to conscious decisions.

Schaffer and Emerson found that infants were not predominantly attached to the person that fed them but to the person who responded most sensitively to their needs.

This suggests that Harlow’s study on rhesus monkey is not valid in determining attachment as the cognitive level of humans greatly exceed that of animals. In this context, Harlow’s findings cannot be generalized to humans.

Lorenz’s Imprinting Theory


Animal studies have been largely useful in describing attachment and imprinting. Lorenz (1935), using a clutch of gosling eggs, divided them into one half once incubated, seeing Lorenz as their first moving thing.

Lorenz later placed the marked ducklings together to show which had imprinted on the duckling’s mother and Lorenz, and they quickly divided themselves up. The animals were exposed to Lorenz during the critical period of imprinting.

Lorenz found that geese follow the first moving object they see during a 12-17 hour critical period after hatching.  This process is known as imprinting and suggests that attachment is innate and programmed genetically.


The usefulness of the study is supported by research regarding imprinting. For example, Guiton (1966) used chicks and used yellow rubber gloves to feed them during the critical period, and the chicks were imprinted on the glove. Suggests that young animal imprint on any moving thing present during the critical period of development. The chicks were then later found trying to mate with the yellow rubber glove.

This largely corroborates with the findings originally found in Lorenz’s study as this suggests the long-lasting effects of the study as this is an irreversible change affecting social and sexual behavior known as sexual imprinting. This then links to several ethical issues within both Harlow and Lorenz due to the irreversible effect it had on the animals.

However, there are criticisms of imprinting as the concept of imprinting within Lorenz’s study suggests that within this context, the object leads to an irreversible situation on the nervous system.

However, Hoffman (1976) suggested that this is not an irreversible change which is then further supported by Guiton, who suggested that after spending time with their own species, they were able to engage in normal sexual behavior, suggesting that imprinting is moderately reversible.

Explanations of Attachment

Learning Theory


Dollard & Miller (1950) state attachment is a learned behavior that is acquired through both classical and operant conditioning. It is a nurture theory.

The learning theory of attachment proposes that all behavior is learned rather than an innate biological behavior, as children are born blank slates.

According to classical conditioning, food (UCS) produces pleasure (UCR). The child associates food and the mother together. The mother becomes the conditioned stimulus, and happiness becomes the conditioned response…attachment has formed.

attachment - learning theory

Attachment can also be learned by operant conditioning. The presence of the caregiver is reinforcing for the infant. The infant gains pleasure/reward as they are fed. The infant’s behavior is reinforcing for the caregiver (the caregiver gains pleasure from smiles etc. – reward). The reinforcement process is, therefore, reciprocal (two-way) and strengthens the emotional bond/attachment between the two.

Dollard & Miller (1950) used the term secondary drive hypothesis to describe the processes of learning an attachment through operant and classical conditioning. The secondary drive hypothesis explains how primary drives essential for survival, such as eating when hungry, become associated with secondary drives, such as emotional closeness.

They extended the theory to explain that attachment is a two-way process that the caregiver must also learn. This occurs through negative reinforcement when the caregiver feels pleasure because the infant is no longer distressed.


Schaffer and Emerson found less than half of infants had a primary attachment to the person
who usually fed them.

Harlow’s research suggested monkeys became attached to the soft
surrogate mother rather than the one who fed it. This goes against the learning theory of attachment.

Lorenz found goslings imprinted on the first moving object they saw, which suggests attachment is innate and not learned.

However, the reliability of the learning theory is questioned as it is based on animal research. Behaviorists believe that humans are similar to animals in how they learn.

The structure of the stimulus and response behavioral traits are similar in humans and animals, making it legitimate to generalize the findings from an animal to humans. These behaviors can be explained through conditioned behavior, but not all, such as attachment.

Behaviorist theories may lack validity as they’re an oversimplified explanation of human behavior as they believe attachment involves innate predispositions.

Another limitation of the learning theory in explaining attachment is it suggests that food is the predominant factor in forming attachments.

There has, however, been conflicting evidence. For example, a study by Harlow suggests that food is not the principal factor in attachment, which is supported by Schaeffer and Emerson. Infant monkeys were attached to the cloth-covered wire monkey, which provided contact comfort, not food.

Also, the drive reduction theory though popular previously is not used today as it can only display a few behaviors. The theory fails to explain secondary reinforcers as many people do things that give them discomfort.

Arguably, the learning theory does provide useful information as it explains that infants learn through association and reinforcement. Attention and responsiveness from a caregiver and sensitivity to the child’s needs allow an attachment to be formed. The sensitivity that the main caregiver provides is then mimicked by the infant teaching the child how to act.

Bowlby’s Monotropic Theory


Bowlby’s monotropic theory of attachment suggests attachment is important for a child’s survival.
Attachment behaviors in both babies and their caregivers have evolved through natural
selection. This means infants are biologically programmed with innate behaviors that ensure that attachment occurs.

Critical Period

This theory also suggests that there is a critical period for developing attachment (about 0 – 2.5 years). If an attachment has not developed during this time period, then it may well not happen at all.


A child has an innate (i.e., inborn) need to attach to one main attachment figure. This is called monotropy. This concept of monotropy suggests that there is one relationship that is more important than all the rest. Although Bowlby did not rule out the possibility of other attachment figures for a child, he did believe that there should be a primary bond that was much more important than any other (usually the mother).

Other attachments may develop in a hierarchy below this. An infant may therefore have a primary monotropy attachment to its mother, and below her, the hierarchy of attachments may include its father, siblings, grandparents, etc.

Internal Working Model

The child’s relationship with a primary caregiver provides an internal working model which influences later relationships. This internal working model is a cognitive framework comprising mental representations for understanding the world, self, and others. A person’s interaction with others is guided by memories and expectations from their internal model, which influence and help evaluate their contact with others.

There are three main features of the internal working model: (1) a model of others as being trustworthy, (2) a model of the self as valuable, and (3) a model of the self as effective when interacting with others. Around the age of three, these seem to become part of a child’s personality and thus affect their understanding of the world and future interactions with others.


Konrad Lorenz (1935) supports Bowlby’s monotropic theory as the attachment process of imprinting is an innate process that has a critical period. Also, the geese also attached to a single person/animal or object, thus showing monotropic behavior. However, Rutter’s Romanian Orphan Study showed that attachments could form after the critical period.

The idea of monotropy and hierarchy is supported by research into attachments formed by the Efe tribe of Congo. Efe women share the care of infants in the tribe and take turns breastfeeding them. However, the infants return to their natural mother at night and form a stable bond with the mother.

Use of contradictory evidence: e.g., Schaffer and Emerson’s findings re multiple attachments

Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation study provides evidence for the existence of the internal working model. A secure child will develop a positive internal working model of itself because it has received sensitive, emotional care from its primary attachment figure. An insecure-avoidant child will develop an internal working model in which it sees itself as unworthy because its primary attachment figure has reacted negatively to it during the sensitive period for attachment formation.

Implications (including economic implications) of monotropy theory: e.g., the role of fathers, mothers returning to employment, use of daycare, etc.

The importance of monotropy is overemphasized – Thomas questions the benefits of monotropy and suggests having a network of attachments to support infants and their needs and Van Ijzendoorn argued that a stable network of adults could provide better care than one mother – The theory lacks value and may require adjustment.

Ainsworth’s Strange Situation



Ainsworth and Bell (1971) conducted a controlled observation recording the reactions of a child and mother (caregiver) who were introduced to a strange room with toys.

In the strange situation, about 100 middle-class American infants and their mothers took part. The infant’s behavior was observed during a set of pre-determined activities.

The Strange Situation procedure involved the child experiencing eight ‘episodes’ of approximately 3 minutes each.

The child is observed playing for 20 minutes while caregivers and strangers enter and leave the room, recreating the flow of the familiar and unfamiliar presence in most children’s lives. Observers noted the child’s willingness to explore, separation anxiety, stranger anxiety, and reunion behavior.

Ainsworth & Bell observed from the other side of a one-way mirror so that the children did not know that they were being observed.



  Secure Resistant Avoidant
Separation Anxiety Distressed when the mother leaves Intense distress when the mother leaves No sign of distress when the mother leaves
Stranger Anxiety Avoidant of strangers when alone, but friendly when the mother is present The infant avoids the stranger – shows fear of the stranger The infant is okay with the stranger and plays normally when the stranger is present
Reunion Behavior Positive and happy when the mother returns The infant approaches the mother, but resists contact, and may even push her away The Infant shows little interest when the mother returns
Other Uses the mother as a safe base to explore their environment The infant cries more and explores less than the other two types The mother and stranger are able to comfort the infant equally well
% of infants 70% 15% 15%


Types of Attachment

Secure Attachment

The main characteristics of this attachment type are:

(i) Infants are upset when left alone by the mother.

(ii) Infants are happy when mother returns and seek contact with the mother.

(iii) Infants avoid the stranger when alone, but friendly when the mother is present.

(iv) The infants uses the mother as a safe base to explore their environment.

This type of attachment occurs because the mother meets the emotional needs of the infant.

Insecure Avoidant

The main characteristics of this attachment type are:

(i) Infants are unconcerned by mother’s absence when she leaves the room.

(ii) Infants shows little interest when they are reunited with the mother (i.e. she returns to the room).

(iii) Infants are strongly avoidant of mother and stranger, showing no motivation to interact with either adult.
The stranger is treated similar to the mother (does not seek contact).

This type of attachment occurs because the mother ignores the emotional needs of the infant.

Insecure Resistant / Ambivalent

The main characteristics of this attachment type are:

(i) infants are clingy to their mother in a new situation and are not willing to explore – suggesting that they do not have trust in her.

(ii) they are extremely distressed when left alone by their mother.

(iii) they cannot be comforted by a stranger and will not interact with them – they treat the stranger and the mother very differently.

(iv) when the mother returns they are pleased to see her and go to her for comfort, but then cannot be comforted and may show signs of anger towards her.

This type of attachment style occurs because the mother sometimes meets the needs of the infant and sometimes ignores their emotional needs, i.e., the mother’s behavior is inconsistent.

AO2 Scenario Question

Johan was adopted at the age of 4. Before this, he was in an orphanage where there was very little emotional care. He is now 6 years old. His parents have noticed that he behaves in the same way toward strangers as he does with them.

Johan hurt himself recently, and he did not ask for them but accepted comfort from a man who stopped to help him.

What type of attachment is Johan displaying? What is the reason for this?


A problem of the study is that it lacks population validity. The original study used American infants. The study tells us about how this particular group behaves and cannot be generalized to the wider population and other cultures.

Another criticism of the study is that it has low ecological validity, and the results may not be applicable outside of the lab. The environment of the study was controlled, and the eight scripted stages of the procedure (e.g., mum and stranger entering and leaving the room at set times) would be unlikely to happen in real life.

One strength of the study is that it is easy to replicate. This is because it follows a standardized procedure involving the 8 episodes of the mother and stranger entering the leaving the room.

Cultural Variations in Attachment


Van Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg (1988) wanted to investigate if attachment styles (secure and insecure) are universal (the same) across cultures or culturally specific (vary considerably from place to place due to traditions, the social environment, or beliefs about children).

They did not collect the data for their study. Instead, they analyzed data from other studies using a method called a meta-analysis. Data from 32 studies in 8 different countries were analyzed.

All 32 studies used the strange situation procedure to study attachment. Using a meta-analysis (a statistical technique), they calculated the average percentage for the different attachment styles (e.g., secure, avoidant, resistant) in each country.

Van Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg found that secure attachment was the majority of infants (70%). The lowest percentage of secure attachments was shown in China and the highest in Great Britain.

It was also found that Western countries that support independence, such as Germany, had high levels of insecure-avoidant.

Whereas Eastern countries that are more culturally close, such as Japan, had quite high levels of insecure resistant.

The exception to the pattern was China which had an equal number of avoidant and resistant infants.


One problem is that many of the studies used in the meta-analysis had biased samples, which cannot claim to be representative of each culture. For example, only 36 infants were used in the Chinese study, which is a very small sample size for such a populated country. Also, most of the studies analyzed were from Western cultures.

The Strange Situation was created and tested in the USA, which means that it may be culturally biased (ethnocentric), as it will reflect the norms and values of American culture.

This is a problem as it assumes that attachment behavior has the same meaning in all cultures when in fact, cultural perception and understanding of behavior differ greatly. For example, the belief that attachment is related to anxiety on separation. This may not be the case in other cultures, e.g., Japan.

There is a significant variation of attachments within cultures: Van Ijzendoorn looked at multiple studies in each country and found that every study produced different levels of each attachment classification. This intra-cultural variation suggests that it is an oversimplification to assume all children are brought up in the same way in a particular country.

Bowlby’s Theory of Maternal Deprivation


Bowlby’s Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis suggests that continual disruption of the attachment between the infant and primary caregiver (i.e., mother) could result in long-term cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties for that infant. Bowlby originally believed the effects to be permanent and irreversible.

He argued that the first 2.5 years of life, the critical period, were crucial. If the child was separated from their primary attachment figure (often the mother) for an extended period of time and in the absence of substitute care, the damage was inevitable.

Use the acronym – ADDIDDAS to remember the effects of maternal deprivation: Aggression, Delinquency, Dwarfism, Intellectual retardation, Depression, Dependency, Affectionless Psychopathy, and Social maladjustment.

Affectionless psychopathy is an inability to show affection or concern for others, a lack of shame, or a sense of responsibility. Such individuals act on impulse with little regard for the consequences of their actions. For example, showing no guilt for antisocial behavior.

The 44 Juvenile Thieves

Bowlby was a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, working at the London Child Guidance Clinic in the 1930s and 1940s.

Aim: To investigate the long-term effects of maternal deprivation.

Procedure: He selected an opportunity sample of 88 children attending his clinic.

Group 1- thief group: 31 boys and 13 girls in the ‘theft group’ were referred to him because of their stealing.

Group 2- control group: 34 boys and 10 girls were referred to him because of emotional problems.

The two groups were matched for age and IQ.

The children and their parents were interviewed and tested by a psychiatrist (Bowlby), a psychologist, and a social worker focusing specifically on their early life experiences.

Findings: 14 children from the theft group were identified as affectionless psychopaths; 12 of those had experienced prolonged separation of more than six months from their mothers in their first two years of life, whereas only 5 of the 30 children not classified as affectionless psychopaths* had experienced separations. Out of the 44 children in the control group, only 2 had experienced prolonged separations, and none of them were affectionless psychopaths.

AO2 Scenario Question

Anca is an orphan who has been adopted by a British couple. Before being adopted, Anca lived in an institution with lots of other children in very poor conditions. Her new parents are understandably concerned about how Anca’s early experiences may affect her in the future.

Use your knowledge of the effects of institutionalization to advise Anca’s new parents about what to expect.

(5 marks)

You have to advise her parents on what to expect.

Provided by PsychLogic Revision Notes

“Apart from suffering maternal deprivation, because Anca lived in an institution with very poor conditions, she may have been mentally under-stimulated, malnourished, and uncared for.

In a study of similar children conducted by Rutter, orphans scored worse than a control group on measures of physical, social, and cognitive development.

Therefore, Anca may be physically and intellectually underdeveloped for her age and may show poor peer relations and disinhibited attachment – a form of insecure attachment where children do not discriminate between people to whom they try to attach to, being overly friendly, clingy, and attention-seeking.

However, if she does form an attachment at a fairly young age, these negative effects may be reversed.”

AO2 Scenario Question

Laura is 2 years old, her mother died of cancer recently, and she has not got any family to look after her. Her social worker, Phil, is considering Laura’s future.

Based on your knowledge of the maternal deprivation hypothesis, what advice would you give Phil? Explain your answer.


Bowlby’s Maternal Deprivation is supported by Harlow’s (1958) research with monkeys. He showed that monkeys reared in isolation from their mother suffered emotional and social problems in older age. The monkey’s never formed an attachment (privation) and, as such, grew up to be aggressive and had problems interacting with other monkeys.

Due to Bowlby’s theory, a number of real-life applications have been made: In orphanages now, they have to take account of emotional needs, and fostered children have to be kept in one stable home rather than being moved around. In maternity units, mothers are now allowed to spend more time with their babies as well as if they have a sick child, the visiting hours in the hospital have been extended, and parents can even stay overnight if they wish.

Critics such as Rutter have also accused Bowlby of not distinguishing between deprivation and privation – the complete lack of an attachment bond, rather than its loss. Rutter stresses that the quality of the attachment bond is the most important factor, rather than just deprivation in the critical period.

Bowlby assumed that physical separation on its own could lead to deprivation, but Rutter argues that it is the disruption of the attachment bond rather than the physical separation. This is supported by Radke-Yarrow (1985), who found that 52% of children whose mothers suffered from depression were insecurely attached. This figure raised to 80% when this occurred in the context of poverty (Lyons-Ruth,1988).

This shows the influence of social factors. Bowlby did not take into account the quality of the substitute care. Deprivation can be avoided if there is good emotional care after separation. Hodges and Tizard’s research (on privation / institutional care) shows that the effects of deprivation can be reserved.

Romanian orphan studies: effects of institutionalization


Institutionalization is the behavior patterns of children who have been raised outside of the family home in an institution such as an orphanage or a residential children’s home.

Note, you need to describe the effects of institutional care – this means the results of research studies rather than the procedure (i.e. what happened).

Rutter’s Study

Procedure: Rutter (1998) studied Romanian orphans who had been placed in orphanages, aged 1-2 weeks old, with minimal adult contact. This was a Longitudinal study and natural experiment, using a group of around 100 Romanian orphans assessed at ages 4, 6, and 11, then re-assessed 21 years later.

58 babies were adopted before 6 months old, and 59 between the ages of 6-24 months old. 48 babies were adopted late, between 2-4 years old. These were the 3 conditions Rutter used in his study.

Findings: Those who were adopted by British families before 6 months old showed ‘normal’ emotional development compared with UK children adopted at the same age.

Many adopted after 6 months old showed disinhibited attachments (e.g., attention-seeking behavior towards all adults, lack of fear of strangers, inappropriate physical contact, lack of checking back to the parent in stressful situations) and had problems with peers.

Conclusion: This study suggests long-term consequences may be less severe than was once thought if children have the opportunity to form attachments. When children don’t form attachments, the consequences are likely to be severe.

Note: Disinhibited attachment is where children don’t discriminate between people they choose as attachment figures. The child doesn’t seem to prefer his or her parents over other people, even strangers. The child seeks comfort and attention from virtually anyone without distinction. They will treat strangers with overfriendliness and may be attention-seeking.


This study provided detailed measurements through the use of interviews and observations of the children’s behaviors. The problem is that it is not easy to find out information about the institutional experience for the child and therefore, we don’t know the extent of early privation experienced by these children.

Another problem with this type of study is that once the children are adopted, they may not wish to take part in the study anymore, so the results would not be representative.

The Bucharest Early Intervention Project

Procedure: Zeanah et al. (2005) assessed the attachment in 136 Romanian orphans aged between 12-31 months who had spent an average of 90% of their life in an institution and compared them to a control group who spent their life in a “normal family.” The attachment type was measured using the Strange Situation.

Infants took part in the Strange Situation to assess attachment type. They

Findings: 74% of the control group was found to be securely attached, but only 19% of the institutionalized group. 65% of this group were classified as disorganized attachment (a type of insecure attachment where the children display an inconsistent pattern of behavior; sometimes they show strong attachment, other times they avoid the caregiver).

The institutionalized children showed signs of disinhibited attachment.


There may be other factors – Other than emotional deprivation, the physical conditions of the Romanian orphans were appalling, and the lack of cognitive stimulation would also affect their development – Most institutionalized children experience multiple risks. Thus, maternal deprivation should not be over-exaggerated.

The Influence of Early Attachment on Childhood and Adult Relationships: Including the Role of an Internal Working Model

According to Bowlby (1969), later relationships are likely to be a continuation of early attachment styles (secure and insecure) because the behavior of the infant’s primary attachment figure promotes an internal working model of relationships, which leads the infant to expect the same in

The continuity hypothesis is the idea that there is consistency between early emotional experiences and later relationships, and it sees children’s attachment types being reflected in these later relationships. This idea is based on the internal working model, which was proposed by Bowlby in his monotropic theory.

Bowlby sees attachment as monotropic, where infants have an innate tendency to form an attachment to one particular person. This attachment is the strongest of them all, forming a model for future relationships, which the infant will expect from others.

This is the idea of the internal working model, a template for future relationships based upon the infant’s primary attachment, which creates a consistency between early emotional experiences and later relationships.

Childhood Relationships


According to Bowlby’s theory, when we form our primary attachment, we also make a mental representation of what a relationship is (internal working model), which we then use for all other relationships in the future, i.e., friendships, working, and romantic relationships.

In other words, there will be continuity between early attachment experiences and later relationships. This is known as the continuity hypothesis.

Childhood Friendships

According to attachment theory, the child who has a secure attachment style should be more confident in interactions with friends.


Considerable evidence has supported this view. For example, the Minnesota study (2005) followed participants from infancy to late adolescence and found continuity between early attachment and later emotional/social behavior. Securely attached children were rated most highly for social competence later in childhood and were less isolated and more popular than insecurely attached children.

Hartup et al. (1993) argue that children with a secure attachment type are more popular at nursery and engage more in social interactions with other children. In contrast, insecurely attached children tend to rely more on teachers for interaction and emotional support.

An alternative explanation for continuity in relationships is the temperament hypothesis which argues that an infant’s temperament affects how a parent responds, and so may be a determining factor in infant attachment type. The infant’s temperament may explain their issues (good or bad) with relationships in later life.

Adult Relationships


Parenting Style

Research indicates an intergenerational continuity between adult attachment types and their children, including children adopting the parenting styles of their own parents. People tend to base their parenting style on the internal working model, so the attachment type tends to be passed on through generations of a family.


Research by Bailey (2007) found that the majority of women had the same attachment classification both to their babies and their own mothers.

Harlow’s monkeys showed a link between poor attachment and later difficulties with parenting because they had a lack of an internal working model.


Romantic Relationships

There also appears to be a continuity between early attachment styles and the quality of later adult romantic relationships. This idea is based on the internal working model, where an infant’s primary attachment forms a model (template) for future relationships.

The IWM influences a person’s expectation of later relationships and thus affecting his attitudes toward them. In other words, there will be continuity between early attachment experiences and later relationships.


Adult relationships are likely to reflect early attachment style. This is because the experience a person has with their caregiver in childhood would lead to the expectation of the same experiences in later relationships. This is illustrated in Hazan and Shaver’s love quiz experiment.

They conducted a study to collect information on participants’ early attachment types and attitudes toward loving relationships. Of the volunteer sample, they found that those securely attached as infants tended to have long-lasting relationships; on the other hand, insecurely attached people found adult relationships more difficult, tended to divorce, and believed love was rare.

This supports the idea that childhood experiences significantly impact people’s attitudes toward later relationships. The correlation between adult’s attachment style and their memories of the parenting style they received is similar to Ainsworth’s findings, where children’s attachment styles were correlated with the degree of sensitivity their mothers showed.

However, this theory has been accused of being reductionist because it assumes that people who are insecurely attached as children will become insecurely attached as adults and have poor-quality adult relationships.

As well as this, attachment types identified in the Strange Situation and used in Hazan and Shaver’s study relate only to the quality of the relationship with one person. Therefore, an adult’s choice of description for their attachment style might only relate to their current relationships.

This theory is accused of being reductionist because it assumes that people who are insecurely attached as infants would have poor-quality adult relationships. This is not always the case. Researchers found plenty of people having happy relationships despite having insecure attachments. Therefore the theory might be an oversimplification.

An alternative explanation for continuity in relationships is the temperament hypothesis, founded by Kagan. He found that infants have an innate personality, such as being easygoing or difficult, which influences the quality of their attachment with caregivers and later relationships.

This suggests that attachments form due to temperament and not an innate gene for attachment, which goes against Bowlby’s theory. This also suggests that attempts to develop better-quality relationships by changing people’s attachment styles to more positive ones would not work.

Olivia Guy-Evans

BSc (Hons), Psychology, MSc, Psychology of Education

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Educator, Researcher

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.