Outline the Learning Theory of Attachments

Published: 2021-09-11 17:40:09
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Category: Attachment Theory

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Outline the learning theory explanation of attachments. The learning theory proposes that attachment behaviours are learnt through the imitation of the attachment figures meaning they are not innate. One explanation of how this happens is through Classical Conditioning. In the Learning Theory Classical Conditioning is the forming of an attachment through association. The Learning Theory states that when a baby is born they naturally want food. When the mother feeds the baby it automatically associates the food which is the primary reinforces with its mother who is the secondary reinforces.
Therefore an attachment is formed with the mother because she is giving what the baby needs most. the mother feeding the baby when the baby cries will mean that the baby learns that crying will get them food which then makes the baby happy, the food is the unconditioned stimulus and the happiness from the child is the unconditioned response the primary care giver is the neutral stimulus, over time the baby will associate the mother with food and the presence of just the mother will make the baby happy, the mother is the conditioned stimulus and the baby being happy to see the mother is the conditioned response.
Another explanation of how attachments are learned according to the Learning Theory is through Operant Conditioning. Operant Conditioning involves reinforcement or a reward to maintain a relationship. Dollard and Miller stated that all babies are born with a need to reduce feelings of hunger. When the mother feeds the baby it acts as a positive reinforcement or a reward on the behaviour of the baby.
The reward that the baby receives is a positive reward and therefore the baby is likely to repeat the same behaviour to provoke the same response from the mother. This reinforces the attachment bond between mother and child because she is the one providing the food. Dollard & Miller (1950) used the term secondary drive hypothesis to describe the processes of learning an attachment through operant and classical conditioning.
Secondary drive hypothesis explains how primary drives which are essential for survival, such as eating when hungry, become associated with secondary drives such as emotional closeness. They extended the theory to explain that attachment is a two way process that the caregiver must also learn, and this occurs through negative reinforcement when the caregiver feels pleasure because the infant is no longer distressed.

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