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The learning theory of attachment focuses of two concepts; operant and classical conditioning. Classical conditioning as an explanation for attachment describes the baby receiving food (and unconditioned stimulus) and producing an unconditioned response (happiness) and the mother feeding the baby will be the neutral stimulus. The baby will then experience the mother giving them food (and therefore happiness) a number of times and then learn to associate the mother (now a conditioned stimulus) with the feeling of happiness (a conditioned response) and thus an attachment will form. Operant conditioning describes attachment as a reinforced response. When a baby gets food it’s discomfort will become happiness and the baby will associate this feeling with food and therefore food will become the primary reinforcer. The person feeding the baby will also be associated with the happiness and therefore become the secondary reinforcer and an attachment will form. (evaluate)
Even though the learning theory of attachment provides an adequate explanation of attachment it is flawed. Research evidence, such as that of Harlow’s monkey study, opposes the idea of learning theory as an explanation of attachment. Harlow’s monkey study involved giving a baby monkey the choice of either food or comfort (food was portrayed by a wire ‘monkey’ with a feeding bottle attached to it and comfort was portrayed by a wire ‘monkey’ covered in cloth). According to the learning theory of attachment the monkey should have spent most of his time on the food ‘monkey, however the opposite was true – the monkey spent the majority of his time on the comfort ‘monkey’. This decreases the validity of the learning theory of attachment as an explanation for attachment because the findings of Harlow’s monkey study opposed what it suggested. However, the monkey study was conducted on monkeys and it could be argued that this is not an accurate representation of human attachment. Humans are a lot more complex than animals and so therefore research on animals to study behaviour cannot be applied to human behaviour. Outline and evaluate the learning theory of attachment (12 marks) A GRADE (outline)