Discuss the Learning Theory Explanation of Attachment. (12 Marks)

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Discuss the learning theory explanation of attachment. (12 marks) Attachment is a deep emotional bond between the child and the principle caregiver. Attached infants will show a desire to be close to their primary caregiver (usually the biological mother). They’ll show distress when they are separated and pleasure when they are reunited. Learning Theory links attachment to pleasure. This is also known as a behaviourist theory, and focuses on the baby wanting its needs to be fulfilled. Conditioning is given as an explanation of how attachments form. There are two conditionings and they are classical conditioning which is learning by associations in the environment. Getting food naturally gives the baby pleasure. The babies desire is fulfilled whenever its mother is around to feed it. So an association is formed between the mother and food. Whenever its mother is around to feed it the baby feels pleasure. Another conditioning is operant conditioning which Dollard and Miller (1956) claimed that babies feel discomfort when they are hungry and so have a desire for food to remove the discomfort. They find that, if they cry their mother will come and feed them. (This is called negative reinforcement). The mother is therefore associated with food and the baby will want to be close to her. This provides attachment behaviour. Harlow (1959) showed that comfort is important in attachment. Just because babies spend most their time either eating or sleeping it doesn’t mean they automatically attach to the person who feeds them. Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that many infants didn’t have strong attachments with
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