One theory of attachment that behaviourists such as Dollard and Miller (1950) have put forward is Learning Theory, this theory believes that all behaviours are acquired though learning which takes place through classical and operant conditioning. Learning theory provides explanations on how attachments between the caregiver and baby are formed, one explanation is through classical conditioning; learning by association. This is based upon Pavlov’s work with dogs in 1927. Before conditioning an unconditioned stimulus produced an unconditioned response, during conditioning a neutral stimulus and unconditioned response would produce an unconditioned response then after conditioning the conditioned stimulus would result in a conditioned response. In the case of learning theory the unconditioned stimulus would be the food and the unconditioned response would a be a happy baby, the neutral stimulus which then becomes a conditioned stimulus would be the mother, therefore after conditioning the mother will make the baby happy as the baby associates the mother with food; a source of pleasure for the baby. Another explanation learning theory provides is that attachments are formed through operant conditioning; learning by reinforcement – positive or negative. This can explain the mothers bond with the child for example a mother will receive reinforcements for behaviours that affect the baby’s wellbeing; an example of negative reinforcement would be feeding a crying baby so it stops crying – the mothers actions have resulted in the subtraction of something negative. An example of positive reinforcement would be when the mother talks to the baby the baby may smile.
A study that undermines the learning theory explanation of attachment is Fox’s 1977 study of Israeli children. Fox studied 122 children raised in an Israeli Kibbutz and only seeing their parents around an hour a day. A metapelet was responsible for feeding and taking care of the children. Fox found that...
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