Attachment and Imprinting

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 12 June 2016

Attachment and Imprinting


Attachment is an emotional bond which we as people depend on for our sense of security . Attachment is not just a connection between two people; it is a bond that involves a desire for regular contact with that person we want to remain close to one another. But also we can have the distress of separation and joy and being reunited. As we form attachments throughout our lives there is a particular attachment between babies and their main primary carer According to psychologist Mary Ainsworth , attachment “may be defined as an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one – a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time.” Attachment behaviour in adults towards a child includes responding sensitively and appropriately to the child’s needs. Such behaviour appears universal across cultures.

Attachment theory provides an explanation of how the parent-child relationship emerges and influences subsequent development. John Bowlby’s theory of attachment led to believe the importance of the child’s relationship with their mother in terms of their social, emotional and cognitive development. Specifically, it shaped his belief about the link between early infant separations with the mother and later, led Bowlby to formulate his attachment theory.

Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson studied the progress of 60 babies starting from a few weeks old to 18 months. These children were observed in their own home , and a pattern was identified in their development of attachment. They found that babies attachment developed in a sequence Up to 3 months of age – Indiscriminate attachments. The newborn is predisposed to attach to any human. Most babies respond equally to any caregiver After 4 months – Preference for certain people. Infants they learn to distinguish primary and secondary caregivers but accept care from anyone; After 7 months – Special preference for a single attachment figure. The baby looks to particular people for security, comfort and protection. It shows fear of strangers (stranger fear) and unhappiness when separated from a special person (separation anxiety).

Some babies show stranger fear and separation anxiety much more frequently and intensely than others, but nevertheless they are seen as evidence that the baby has formed an attachment. This has usually developed by one year of age. After 9 months – Multiple attachments. The baby becomes increasingly independent and forms several attachments The results of their study found that attachment were most likely to develop with carers who responded to their needs , rather than the person that spent most of their time with . Schaffer and Emerson called this sensitive responsivness .But the most important fact in forming attachments is not who feeds and changes the child but who plays and communicates with him or her.

Bartholomew gathered evidence that attachment behaviour exists across many different cultures . Bartholomew thought it was relevant to study adults as well as children and found evidence to suggests that adults have the desire for closeness with and attachment figure especially under certain conditions . Attachment has proved to be an invaluable in understanding the relationship between early experiences and later development. A secure attachment greatly advantages the child in its later development .


Is a rapid learning process by which a newborn or very young animal establishes a behaviour pattern of recognition and attraction to another animal of its own kind or to a substitute or an object identified as the parent. A form of imprinting is filial imprinting, in which a young animal acquires several of its behavioral characteristics from its parent. Imprinting is the term used in psychology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behaviour. It was first used to describe situations in which an animal or person learns the characteristics of some stimulus, which is therefore said to be “imprinted” onto the subject.

However, in child development the term is used to refer to the process by which a baby learns who its mother and father are. The process is recognised as beginning in the womb, when the unborn baby starts to recognise its parents’ voices. Konrad Lorenz , a scientist who studied animals in their natural environment and their behaviour , found imprinting is an inbuilt tendency for a young animal to follow a moving object and form an attachment . Konrad Lorenz conducted an experiment with greylag goslings who were reared from an egg by humans and did not mix with their own speicies .

He found that they imprinted to the first large moving object that it sees Lorenz also found that imprinting occurs in other kinds of animals too . He found many types of birds , some insects , fishes and some mammmals , for example deer and sheep . However imprinting not occur in human infants but they do form close relationships with others . An infant will behave differently with its mother and recognise her voice when heard , or follow her movements round the room , stop crying when they are picked up by her , a baby will recognise its own mother

2 How can studies of animal behaviour and reactions be applied to human psychology ? .Write 500 words to elaborate and justify your answer.

The study of animal behaviour can lead to a deeper and broader understanding of human psychology. Research on animal behaviour has led to numerous discoveries about human behaviour, such as Ivan Pavlov’s research on classical conditioning or Harry Harlow’s work with rhesus monkeys. Many psychologists studied animals to gain an insight into human development so they could understand human behaviour without studying humans for moral and ethical reasons . This would also restrict the type of research that they could use on a human being. They also found you could control the animals environment and animals are quicker at reaching adulthood allowing them to research in a short time . Harlow did a study/experiment on young rhesus monkeys were he separated them from their mother at birth , he wanted to show the importance of a mother’s love for a healthy childhood .

His study was cruel yet they uncovered truths that influence our understanding of child development .Harlow’s most famous experiment was when he separated two monkeys at birth and placed them with two artifical surrogate mothers, a wire mesh “mother” and a cloth “mother” one was not so nice to cuddle and the other ( cloth mother) was more soft and cuddly. . Both had tubes in which the monkeys could obtain food . the experiment discovered that the monkeys spent more time with their cloth mother than their wire mother , which concluded that “ contact comfort” was important in the development of affection. Harlow also found the attachment of infant monkeys to their surrogate in other experiments that he did . An example is that he placed a moving toy into the cage ,the monkeys reaction would be of one of fear or they would scream or cry, however if the wire mother was present it would stop , but with the cloth mother they showed initial fear but would quickly calm down when close to her and would explore the object with the security of the cloth mother .

Harlows experiments showed proof that love is vital for normal childhood development “These data make it obvious that contact comfort is a variable of overwhelming importance in the development of affectional response, whereas lactation is a variable of negligible importance,” Harlow explained (1958). Ivan Pavlov classical conditional theory is based on his observations, he focused on investigating exactly how these conditioned responses are learned or acquired. Classical conditioning is often used to treat phobias, anxiety and panic disorders. It’s important to note that classical conditioning involves placing a neutral signal before a naturally occurring reflex. In Pavlov’s classic experiment with dogs, the neutral signal was the sound of a tone and the naturally occurring reflex was salivating in response to food.

Behaviorism is based on the assumption that learning occurs through interactions with the environment. Two other assumptions of this theory are that the environment shapes behavior and that taking internal mental states such as thoughts, feelings, and emotions into consideration is useless in explaining behaviour. A understanding of human behaviour and development through studies of social behaviour in monkeys has relevance for general and child psychology . Especially in Harlow’s learning research it demonstrates that animals , like humans are able to learn and apply stategies to situations , so we have a better understanding on why we behave the way we do .


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 12 June 2016

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