Understanding Attachment

Topics: John Bowlby, Attachment theory, Mary Ainsworth Pages: 4 (1497 words) Published: November 13, 2013
Compare and Contrast the work of Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on understanding attachment.

There has been extensive psychological research on relationships and in particular the bond between mother and child. This, and other strong bonds, has become known as ‘attachment’ due to a theory from a psychologist called John Bowlby. Bowlby’s theory was that infants have an inbuilt tendency to form relationships in order to assure their own survival from an evolutionary point of view. This was a radical point of view compared to those generally accepted at the time. This led to the experiments by Ainsworth and Harlow and this essay will look at the methods, experiments and results that arose from those efforts.

Harry Harlow wanted to test the theory that Bowlby had offered by preventing one group of mothers from feeding their children while another group would be prevented from physical contact. Harlow knew that he couldn’t conduct this study on humans due to ethical restrictions so he decided to use monkeys. Harlow had observed infant monkeys protesting when sanitary pads were removed from their cages which led him to theorise that the monkeys required ‘contact comfort’ as well as food, water and shelter. He tested this theory by making two ‘surrogate’ monkey mothers, one was covered in towelling and had a light bulb inside to simulate warmth and a feeding bottle was placed within it as well. The second model was a bare mesh model with a feeding bottle inside but nothing else. Harlow then divided eight infants into two groups, one group had a cloth mother that provided milk while the mesh one didn’t and in the second group the mesh mother provided the milk while the cloth mother did not.

Harlow’s results showed that the infants spent more time clinging to the towel covered mother even if it provided food or not. This seemed to confirm his theory that tactile comfort was more important than food. Harlow then tested his results further by conducting...
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