Outline and Evaluate Two Theories of Attachment

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The learning theory, which is also called the behavioural theory, suggests that we form an attachment with the one who feeds us; this isn’t necessarily the mother. We acquire this attachment using two types of conditioning: classical conditioning and operant conditioning. With classical conditioning, it is said the stimulus – being food – produces a response of pleasure from the child. The child will then associate food with pleasure and ultimately, the food giver becomes a source of pleasure within itself, regardless of whether the food is supplied or not., therefore the child is able to associate pleasure with not only the stimulus, but the food/care giver him/herself. Operant conditioning suggests that being fed satisfies an infant’s hunger, ultimately making them feel comfortable again. This is called rewarding and the infant learns that the food is a reward. The person who supplies the food is associated with the food and becomes a secondary reinforce. The infant then seeks to be with this person because they know that they will be rewarded. However, we cannot generalise the findings of this theory to humans because the evidence is based largely on animals - humans behave completely differently to animals. Research by Harlow and Harlow contradicts the learning theory because in their study which consisted of putting a baby monkey in a stressful situation and then placing two wire mesh monkey models in the room, one with food, and the other with a soft blanket on it, the baby monkey chose comfort over food every time. Shaffer and Emerson’s study in 1964 studied 60 babies every 4 weeks in their first year and again at 18 months. The babies were clearly attached to people who were not involved in their physical care. In 39% of the cases, the mother – who was the food provider – was not the baby’s main attachment figure, so this contradicts the learning
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