Learning theory of attachment
Learning theory of attachment
Learning theory has some explanatory power
Association and reward do play a part in learning. However, food may not be the main reinforcer, rather the attention and responsiveness from a caregiver are important rewards not considered by learning theory.
Based on animal research
Behaviourists believe humans are no different from other animals in terms of how they learn. Others argue that learning theory is an over-simplified explanation of human behaviour. Attachment involves innate predispositions and mental activity that are not considered by learning theory.
Contact comfort is more important than food
Harlow (1959) provides strong evidence that feeding has nothing to do with attachment. Infant rhesus monkeys showed a preference for a cloth mother to a wire mother over a wire mother who provided food.
Drive reduction theory is largely ignored today
Drive reduction can only explain a limited number of behaviours and so has lost popularity as an explanation. Furthermore, the theory does not adequately explain how secondary reinforcers work. Secondary reinforcers do not directly reduce discomfort but they are rewarding in themselves.
Bowlby's theory provides a better explanation
First, it can explain why attachments occur, whereas learning theory only explains how attachments form. Second, Bowlby's theory offers a better explanation of other research.
Before conditioning: food is the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and pleasure is the unconditioned response (UCR).
During conditioning: items present when feeding occurs become associated with food. This might include the mother. These items are called neutral stimuli (NS)
After conditioning: consistent pairing of the mother (NS) with food (UCS) means the stimulus takes on the properties of the UCS. The mother has now become the conditioned stimulus (CS) and produces a conditioned response (CR).
Hunger is a drive that motivates the infant to reduce the discomfort experienced when hungry.
Feeding reduces the drive, leading to pleasure. This is positive positive reinforcement. Food becomes the primary enforcer because it supplies the reward.
The person who supplied the food is associated (through classical conditioning) with avoiding discomfort and so becomes the secondary reinforcer - they become a source of reward in their own right. Attachment occurs as the child seeks the person who supplies the reward.
Learning through association. A neutral stimulus (NS) is consistently paired with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) eventually becomes the conditioned stimulus (CS), producing a conditioned response (CR).
A group of explanations which explain behaviour in terms of learning rather than inborn tendencies or higher order thinking.
Learning through reinforcement or punishment. If a behaviour is followed by a desirable consequence, then that behaviour is more likely to occur again in the future.
Social learning theory
Children observe their parents' affectionate behaviour and imitate this. Parents also instruct their children about how to behave in relationships and reward appropriate attachment behaviour.