In the 1950’s Robertson (on behalf of Bowlby) carried out observations of 49 children aged 1-4 over a two-year period of children separated from their main caregiver(s) due to hospitalisation or being placed in a residential nursery because their main caregiver had to be hospitalised. Findings reliably showed that the effects of deprivation pass through three distinct stages: the immediate response to separation is ‘protest’ followed by despair and then followed by detachment.
In the protest the child cries and is unable to be comforted by caregivers with which an attachment has not been formed. In the despair stage the child eventually becomes calmer but is uninterested in others and no longer searches for the caregiver with which an attachment has been formed. In the detachment the child appears to be coping well nevertheless the child tends to treat others all in a similar superficial manner. Furthermore if the attachment-figure returns the ‘abandoned’ child behaves in a very detached manner towards the main caregiver often ignoring or rejecting their ‘advances’. (AO1)
Robertson’s research reliably showed the effects of deprivation over a two-year period. Nevertheless this research used an opportunity sample which was very small consequently it may lack external validity in that it may mean that the findings cannot be generalised to situations other than hospitals or residential nurseries nor situations involving reasons for separation other than hospitalisation of the child or main caregiver.
However because this study was a naturalistic observation of children experiencing real deprivation in a real-life situation the study might well have high external validity in that the research situation does represent real life. Nevertheless whilst a naturalistic observational method may well be high in terms of external validity it often lacks internal validity as the researcher makes no attempt to control variables and therefore Robertson may not be measuring what he claims to measure – i.e. the effects of separation – but, instead may be measuring the effects of something else – such as the child’s reaction to being placed in a very unfamiliar environment. (AO2)
Bowlby (1946) carried out a retrospective study on 88 children that had been referred to his psychiatric clinic because they were suffering psychological disturbances. Half of these children showed delinquent behaviour in that they had a criminal record for theft and 14 of these ‘thieves’ displayed an ‘affectionless’ personality the other 44 children were emotionally disturbed children but did not show delinquent behaviour. When Bowlby investigated the children’s life histories he found that 17 of the 44 children in the ‘delinquent group’ had experienced separation/deprivation from their mothers for more than 6 months during the first four years of life, whereas only 2 in the ’emotionally disturbed group had experienced this. Bowlby concluded that maternal deprivation played the major role in causing delinquency in later life. This appears to suggest that early separations may well be related to later emotional maladjustment. (AO1)
However a number of criticisms can be aimed at Bowlby’s research, for example: The data on separation were collected retrospectively and may not be reliable or valid. (AO2) Even though only two of the non-delinquent group had suffered deprivation all were suffering from psychological disturbances suggesting that deprivation does have negative effects on development; however many children experience deprivation and do not suffer and long-term serious psychological problems suggesting that it is not as ‘clear cut’ as Bowlby is suggesting. (AO2)
Bowlby’s sample was biased in that all of the children in the sample were maladjusted in some way and therefore is not representative and probably not generalisable to children who are not maladjusted in some way. The sample is also too small to be representative of the population. (AO2) Bowlby makes the assumption that maternal deprivation was the major cause of maladjustment when it could have been due to many other factors, for example, being placed in strange and frightening environments, lack of attention from any potential caregiver, etc. (AO2)
Bowlby’s research may well have been biased as he was employed to do such research by the World Health Organisation for political purposes. That is Bowlby’s work was used to support governments eager to encourage women to return to the home and leave the workplace after World War II. In reaction to this, feminists cited anthropological research from around the world to show that sole care by the mother was a recent Western invention. They also point out that in cultures where the mother was not the main caregiver or played little if any role in care-giving the children were not maladapted and grew up to be socialised, well-adjusted adults. (AO2)