Essay on Harlow and Ainsworth

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Compare and contrast research by Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on understanding attachment

Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth undertook studies aimed at providing a clearer insight into the processes associated with attachment. Even though both Harlow and Ainsworth chose a different approach to their research, they met with some similarities. This essay will therefore seek to both compare and contrast their researches, the methods they used as well as evidence gained through their respective researches.

It is I feel important to have a brief understanding as to what attachment is, and thus help to provide a perspective in regards to what the experiments being conducted are aiming to define. Attachment can be defined as “a long term emotionally important relationship in which one individual seeks proximity to and derives security and comfort from the presence of another” (discovering psychology p.193, 2012). As such both Harlow and Ainsworth through their different approaches sought to investigate the mechanisms inherent with infant bonding. Was it due to the carer providing for their emotional and physical needs or was it more deep-seated, in that infants were more inclined to seek attachment to stimulus that met their needs, such as warmth, and softness as suggested through the researches of Bowlby (1948) (discovering psychology p.196 ,2012)

Harlow in his approach chose to base his research solely on animals, in this case the Rhesus Macaque monkey. He chose this method in part due to the fact that these monkeys have approximately ninety four percent in common with human DNA. Coupled with this was the further factor concerning ethical issues, as it would have undoubtedly raised serious concerns had he chose to conduct his experiments on human infants. His observations were conducted entirely within the seemingly harsh surroundings metered through the laboratory environment, which differed in comparison to the research conducted by Ainsworth through her responses to sensitivity.

Through his research, Harlow noticed that the monkeys grew attached to sanitary pads placed in their cage, and suspected that the monkeys boned with them and gained “contact comfort” from them, as they were the only soft item in their otherwise harsh environment, (discovering psychology p.202, 2012)

Harlow thus surmised that the softness of the sanitary pads along with the “contact comfort” the monkeys gained from them seemed a more important factor within the infant bonding process than the presence and supply of food. (discovering psychology p.202, 2012)

In order to further investigate his hypothesis, Harlow constructed two very different types of “surrogate mothers”, one being constructed of wire which lacked any form of tactile comfort, whilst the second was made of wood with a layer of sponge and covered with a soft layer of towelling. Both “mothers” had heating supplied by a light bulb and both had a feeding bottle inserted through the body providing the monkey with food. Through his observations and experimentation, Harlow noted the monkeys bonded with the soft bodied “mother” regardless of whether it contained a supply of nourishment or not. (discovering psychology p.205, 2012).

In contrast Ainsworth‘s research focused on human infants, in part through her observations with mothers and their infants. Whilst living in Uganda, Ainsworth observed a number of families with unweaned babies, and noticed that the more responsive the mothers were to the signals of the infant, the less the infant cried and the more confident the infant was, conversely the less responsive mothers were to signals the more the baby cried (discovering psychology p.216, 2012). Ainsworth, though different in her approach, in her case observing children and their carers in natural surroundings which differed from that of Harlow, in that he observed monkeys in a laboratory surrounding, they both however reached the same conclusion. Infants that feel...
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