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Evolutionary Theory of Attachment

LO: Examine one evolutionary explanation of behavior

What is the Theory of Evolution?

The theory of evolution suggests that all living organism go through a process of natural selection, in order for the most beneficial genes to be carried on. This is also called survival of the fittest. The adaptation of organisms to the environment, such as developed reflexes like disgust, perpetuates (preserves) the genes needed in order for the species to survive in a particular environment. The process of favoring, and carrying on some genes is called the Genetic Drift. Evolution happens over a very long period of time, as incremental mutations (mutation = change in DNA) assure a species reproductive success.

Biological principles that support the Theory of Evolution

There are biological relations with behavior. Behavior can be innate because it is genetically based.

Intro: The Evolutionary Theory of Attachment

Opposed to Behaviorist Theory of Attachment, which suggests that attachment can be nurtured through classical and operant conditioning, the Evolutionary Theory of Attachment suggests that all children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them to survive. Behaviorist theory suggests that infants respond when fed, but Evolutionary theory suggests that infants respond according to the level of care and responsiveness given (supporting evidence: Harlows Monkeys) John Bowlby, who first came up with the Evolutionary Theory of Attachment, hypothesized that both infants and mothers have evolved a biological need to stay in contact with each other.

The Four Main Points of the Evolutionary Theory of Attachment

(1) A child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure The figure is, on most occasions, the mother (counter argument: Schaffer and Emerson) The child will signal the primary caregiver, and the caregiver will respond to the childs behavior, creating a reciprocal interaction and thereby completing the bond (Supporting and Counter Argument: Ainsworth & Bell - Strange Situation) (2) A child should receive the continuous care of this single most important attachment figure for approximately the first two years of life (Supporting Evidence: Schaffer and Emerson and Harlows Monkeys) lack of maternal care in the critical period will lead to irreversible long term consequences that may includes psychopathy (Supporting evidence: 44 Thieves)

(3) The long term consequences of maternal deprivation might include the following (counter argument: Harlows Monkeys): delinquency (Supporting evidence: 44 Thieves) reduced intelligence increased aggression depression (4) The childs attachment relationship with their primary caregiver leads to the development of an internal working model The internal working model is a cognitive framework comprising mental representations for understanding the world, self and others The primary caregiver acts as a prototype for interactions in the future (Supporting evidence: 44 Thieves and Strange Situation)

Characteristics of Attachment
Safe Haven: When the child feel threatened or afraid, he or she can return to the caregiver (Mother) for comfort and soothing. Secure Base: The caregiver provides a secure and dependable base for the child to explore the world. Proximity Maintenance: The child strives to stay near the caregiver, thus keeping the child safe. Separation Distress: When separated from the caregiver, the child will become upset and distressed.

Evidence that led to the Attachment theory

Bowlby was influenced by Lornez, who showed that attachment was innate in young ducklings, and therefore has survival value. Bowlby observed that separated infants would go to extraordinary lengths (e.g., crying, clinging, frantically searching) to prevent separation from their parents or to reestablish proximity to a missing parent Bowlby noted that such expressions are common to a wide variety of mammalian species, and speculated that these behaviors may serve an evolutionary function.

Development of Attachment through Evolution, passing it down for survival and other stuff like that
Because human infants, like other mammalian infants, cannot feed or protect themselves, they are dependent upon the care and protection of "older and wiser" adults. A figure that an individual can depend on provides sanctuary in times of need or danger, and therefore strengthens the chance of survival Bowlby argued that, over the course of evolutionary history, infants who were able to maintain proximity to an attachment figure via attachment behaviors would be more likely to survive to a reproductive age, and therefore through the process of natural selection, only those who have innate attachment instincts remained

Summary of the evidence for the Evolutionary Theory of Attachment

Bowlby 1944 - 44 Thieves Study Supports internal working model and the consequences of maternal deprivation Lorenz - The Gosling Experiment Shows that attachment was displayed from birth, thereby implying innateness and survival value Ainsworth and Bell - The Strange Situation Showed that attachment is not absolute, as Bowlby suggested, but rather, there are types of attachment Supports internal working model Schaffer and Emerson (1964) provides empirical evidence for the development of attachment counter argues Lorenzs theory of imprinting Harlow and Zimmerman - Harlows Monkeys (1958) supports sensitive response as a more important factor than provision for attachment supports continuous development of attachment (as opposed to Lorenzs imprinting) implies that attachment, though evolutionary, has nurture as a factor counter argues that mammals will suffer from maternal deprivation; it seems from this study that mammals, rather than suffering from lack of maternal care, acts abnormally due to a lack of social interaction

Slightly detailed details of the studies

Bowlby 1944 - 44 Thieves Study Aim: To investigate the effects of maternal deprivation on people to see whether delinquents have suffered deprivation Procedure: Interview 44 adolescents who were referred to a child protection program in London because of stealing Another group of 44 adolescents were selected as controls. These people were referred to the child protection program because of emotional problems, but have not committed crimes Bowlby also interviewed both groups parents to state whether their children had experienced separation during the critical period and for how long Findings: More than half of the juvenile thieves had been separated from their mothers for longer than 6 months during their first 5 years In the control group only two had had such a separation several of the young thieves (32%) showed affectionless psychopathy (they were not able to care about or feel affection for others) None of the control group were affectionless psychopaths Conclusion:

the reason for the anti-social behavior and emotional problems in the first group was due to maternal deprivation Evaluation: evidence comprises mainly of retrospective data inaccuracy of memory experimenter bias Bowlby designed and conducted this experiment himself Bowlby diagnosed affectionless psychopathy himself only shows a correlation between maternal deprivation and affectionless psychopathy it is not a cause-effect relationship due to other variables such as diet, income, education

Lorenz - The Gosling Experiment Previous Knowledge: Lorenz knew that upon hatching, ducklings will become socially bonded with the first moving object that they come upon Procedure and Findings: Lorenz reared some goslings (young geese) from the moment they hatched, and found that as the goslings grew up, they would follow him about, and courted him in preference to other geese Lorenz also showed that goslings can also develop a social bond with inanimate objects, such as a white ball Analysis and Conclusion: He called this social bonding imprinting, because he thought that the bond is somehow permanently and immediately stamped onto the nervous system from the moment of birth (this is actually not true, as most researchers now believe that attachment develops through a series of stages, see Schaffer and Emerson 1964) Lorenz showed that parental attachment is an innate behavior, and somewhat learnt as well, because repeated exposure to the stimulus is needed in order for the bond to develop Ainsworth and Bell - The Strange Situation Aim to determine the nature of attachment behaviors and types of attachment Procedure Laboratory experiment experiment was set up in a small room with a one way glass Infants were 12 - 18 months old 100 middle class American families Researchers observed the behavior of the infant in 7 three minute long steps 1. Parent and infant alone 2. Stranger joins parent and infant 3. Parent leaves infant and stranger alone 4. Parent returns and stranger leaves 5. Parent leaves; infant left completely alone

6. Stranger returns 7. Parent returns and stranger leaves Four categories of behaviors are measured and observed (1) separation anxiety: the unease the infant shows when left by the caregiver (2) the infants willingness to explore (3) stranger anxiety: the infants response to the presence of a stranger (4) reunion behavior: the way the caregiver was greeted on return Behavior intensity was measured from a scale of 1 - 7 Findings 3 distinct forms of attachment styles, one secure type of attachment and two insecure types Secure Attachment Separation Anxiety Distressed when mother leaves. Resistant Attachment Infant shows signs of intense distress when mother leaves. Infant avoids the stranger shows fear of stranger. Child approaches mother but resists contact, may even push her away. Infant cries more and explores less than the other 2 types. 15 Avoidant Attachment Infant shows no sign of distress when mother leaves. Infant is okay with the stranger and plays normally when stranger is present. Infant shows little interest when mother returns. Mother and stranger are able to comfort infant equally well. 15

Stranger Anxiety

Avoidant of stranger when alone but friendly when mother present.

Reunion Behaviour

Positive and happy when mother returns.


Will use the mother as a safe base to explore their environment. 70

% of infants

Conclusion Ainsworth and Bell determined that the type of attachment an infant showed depended on the type of care given by the primary caretaker Securely Attached infant are associated with sensitive & responsive primary care develop a positive working model of themselves and have mental representations of others as being helpful while viewing themselves as worthy of respect Insecure Resistant attached infants are associated with inconsistent primary care. Sometimes the childs needs and met and sometime they are ignored by the mother.

have negative self image and exaggerate their emotional responses as a way to gain attention Insecure Avoidant infants are associated with unresponsive primary care. The child comes to believe that communication of needs has no influence on the mother. think themselves unworthy and unacceptable, caused by a rejecting primary caregiver

Evaluation Sample Bias (only middle class American families) However, there has been consistent results found across the world e.g. Wartner et. al. found that 78% of children were classified the same way the Strange Situation Paradigm is NOT a general measurement of attachment, but rather a measure of attachment to a maternal figure therefore it lacks validity in terms of generalization to all types of attachment Attachment is dependent on many variables, such as environmental circumstance lab experiment, lacks ecological validity e.g. illness of mother figure may change attachment behavior Breaking ethical guidelines did not protect participants (deliberate mental harm/stress of infants)

Schaffer and Emerson - Stages of Attachment Aim to identify the development of attachment Procedure studies 60 babies at monthly intervals for the first 18 months of their lives longitudinal study all children were studied in their own home carers were interviewed attachment development of the infants was evidenced by the reaction to separation Findings Up to 3 months of age - Indiscriminate attachments. The newborn is predisposed to attach to any human. Most babies respond equally to any caregiver After 4 months - Preference for certain people. Infants they learn to distinguish primary and secondary caregivers but accept care from anyone After 7 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

After 9 months - Multiple attachments. The baby becomes increasingly independent and forms several attachments Conclusion Attachments were most likely to form with those who responded accurately to the baby's signals, not the person they spent most time with (sensitive responsiveness) Babies had many attachments by 10 months The most important fact in forming attachments is not who feeds and changes the child but who plays and communicates with him or her

Harlow and Zimmerman - Harlows Monkeys Aim a series of experiments investigating attachment in monkeys Procedure and Findings 1. Infant monkeys reared in isolation some died, others were frightened and behaved in an abnormal manner. They could not interact with other monkeys even when they were older. 2. Infant monkeys reared with 2 surrogate mothers First surrogate mother: bare wire mothers Second surrogate mother: wire mothers covered in soft terry toweling cloth The monkeys spent more time with the cloth mother. The infant would only go to the wire mother when hungry. Once fed it would return to the cloth mother for most of the day. If a frightening object was placed in the cage the infant took refuge with the cloth mother The infant would explore more when the cloth mother was present Conclusion Supports Evolutionary Theory of Attachment sensitive response and security is more important than food Harlow concluded that for a monkey to develop normally s/he must have some interaction with an object to which they can cling during the first months of life (critical period) Clinging is a natural response - in times of stress the monkey runs to the object to which it normally clings as if the clinging decreases the stress. Bare wire cannot be clung on, as it is hollow. Harlow found therefore that it was social deprivation rather than maternal deprivation that the young monkeys were suffering from When he brought some other infant monkeys up on their own but with 20 minutes a day in a playroom with three other monkeys he found they grew up to be quite normal emotionally and socially. Evaluation Ethics Humans cannot be represented by monkeys, therefore the findings cannot be completely generalized to humans