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  • Animal studies of attachment: Lorenz and Harlow
  • Caregiver-infant interactions in humans: reciprocity and interactional synchrony. Stages of attachment identified by Schaffer. Multiple attachments and the role of the father


  • Explanations of attachment: learning theory and Bowlby’s monotropic theory. The concepts of a critical period and an internal working model
  • Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’. Types of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant. Cultural variations in attachment, including van Ijzendoorn


  • Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation. Romanian orphan studies: effects of institutionalisation


  • The influence of early attachment on childhood and adult relationships, including the role of an internal working model



Developmental psychologists are concerned with the emotional, cognitive (mental) and behavioural changes humans go through as they age as a result of their biology (nature) and their social environment (nurture).

Attachment between mother and infant is a strong emotional bond which serves vital functions in terms of infants’ survival and their emotional/psychological/social adjustment. The attachment bond is present in all mammals, birds and many reptiles, but the bond is particularly lengthy and complex in humans.

Early research on geese (Lorenz) and rhesus monkeys (Harlow) argued that there was a critical period of time after birth during which attachment had to take place, that ‘contact comfort’ rather than food was the basis for the attachment bond, and that lack of an attachment bond caused severe maladjustment in later life.

Whereas Learning theorists argued that the human attachment bond was learnt, Bowlby argued that it was innate and evolutionarily-determined, and if an attachment bond was not formed within a critical period of 3-6 months the infant would suffer long-term negative psychological, emotional and social consequences. Ainsworth expanded on Bowlby’s work arguing that parenting style influenced attachment type (secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-resistant) and how emotionally and socially well-adjusted the infant (and future child and adult) was.

As negative early experiences in infancy have been so strongly linked with negative outcomes in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, much research has focused on the effects of disruption to the attachment bond (deprivation) or failure to form an attachment bond (privation).



A definition of attachment

  • An affectional tie that forms between one person and another, binds them together and endures over time.
  • An attached infant tries to gain and maintain a certain degree of proximity to the person they are attached to: e.g. by following, clinging, smiling, crying and calling.

LORENZ (’35)

A study into imprinting and critical period for attachment


  • Lorenz divided geese eggs into 2 groups: 1 group was left with the mother, the other group in an incubator. Lorenz was the first person/object the incubator group of geese saw when they hatched and they imprinted (see below) on him: i.e. in all respects treated Lorenz as their mother. Lorenz mixed the new born geese raised in the incubator back with those who had imprinted on their natural mother, but the incubator geese immediately separated themselves, followed him (as they would their mother) and showed a strong infant-mother attachment bond.


  • The geese who had imprinted on Lorenz treated him as their mother. Imprinting can be defined as an innate readiness to develop a strong bond with the mother which takes place soon after birth. The strongest imprinting behaviour occurred at 13-16 hours after hatching and if imprinting has not occurred within a critical period of 32 hours geese did not imprint at all. Lorenz found that geese could be imprinted on to any moving object and that imprinting was permanent and irreversible. Mature female geese would seek out a mate the same as the object/person/animal they had imprinted on.

Imprinting is an innate instinct aimed at maximising survival chances of young. By keeping close proximity to the mother their chances of surviving (via protection and food) are increased.


  • Various research studies drew similar conclusions to Lorenz. For example, Guiton (’66) found that leghorn chicks became imprinted on the yellow gloves used to handle them and that adults often attempted to mate with these gloves. This supports Lorenz’s research and confirms that imprinting can occur on any moving object. However, Guiton found that imprinting was not permanent and irreversible – by encouraging chicks to spend more time with their own species they reverted to normal behaviour. Therefore, although imprinting appears to be an innate behaviour subsequent learning can alter this instinct.

HARLOW (’59)

A study in food versus contact comfort as the basis for attachment


  • 8 baby rhesus monkeys who had been removed from their mothers at birth were split into 2 groups of 4. All were individually kept in cages. Each monkey had access to a wire ‘surrogate mother’ or a ‘surrogate mother’ covered in a cloth. For 1 group of 4 the wire mother had a milk bottle feeder attached and for the other group of 4 the cloth mother had the milk feeder attached. Harlow observed the monkeys’ attachment behaviour for 165 days and how they responded when distressed.


  • All monkeys spend the vast majority of time clinging to the cloth covered mother. Those with the wire mother only briefly clung to her to feed. When frightened they clung to the cloth covered mother for reassurance. This suggest that the basis for attachment is not food but ‘contact comfort’.
  • As a result of their failure to attach to a real mother, as adults the monkeys were socially abnormal, either freezing or running away when confronted by other monkeys, they showed abnormal mating behaviour and rejected their own babies. Those raised with the wire mother showed a higher degree of abnormal behaviour.


  • Research that is ethically unacceptable with humans is sometimes performed on animals. Many would argue that the short and long-term psychological harm done to the monkeys cannot be justified. However, it can be argued that Harlow’s research is justifiable in that the monkeys’ suffering was outweighed by the psychological insights gained in helping better understand the attachment process and the long-term effects of failing to attach.
  • Whether we can generalise monkey attachment behaviour to humans is also questionable. Human attachment behaviour is much more complex. However, studies such as Quinton’s (’84) provide support: she found that human mothers who had failed to attach as infants tended to experience problems mothering their own children later on in life.





From birth onward, human infants engage in rhythmic turn-taking interactions with carers. For example, the mother leans in and smiles and the baby will then ‘reciprocate’ or mirror this movement. Brazelton (’79) argued that this reciprocity was the foundation for later turn-taking communication and exchanges in the adult world: for example, we let a person talk, then we respond. The carer’s sensitivity and responsiveness to the infant’s gestures is important in forming a healthy, secure attachment bond.


Meltzoff described a form of reciprocity called interactional synchrony. From 2-3 weeks old, infants imitate specific facial and hand gestures exhibited by their carers.

  • Meltzoff (‘77) conducted an observational study where infants were exposed to 4 different stimuli (3 facial gestures, 1 hand gesture). The infants’ responses were videotaped and independent observers were asked to rate each infant according to whether they showed (i) mouth opening, (ii) mouth closing, (iii) tongue protrusion, (iv) retracting tongue. A high level of interactional synchrony was observed.
  • Each observer scored all tapes twice to check for degree of agreement between observers (inter-rater reliability) and for each observer themselves (intra-rater reliability – i.e. they scored the observation twice to make sure there was agreement between their 1st and 2nd scoring). Statistical analysis of data found both types of reliability to be extremely high (+0.92 [see Research Methods]).

In a later study, Meltzoff demonstrated the same kind of interactional synchrony in 3 day old infants. Given that these infants are virtually new born we can conclude interactional synchrony is innate rather than learnt.


Piaget argued that true imitation only developed in infants at around the age of one. It could be that what appears to be reciprocity/synchrony is in fact infants simply learning to imitate carers as carers reward imitative behaviour with positive reinforcement: e.g. smiles, attention, etc. If this was the case, infants are not showing genuine imitation at so young an age but pseudo-imitation (pseudo = false): i.e. it looks like imitation but it isn’t, and the infant has not consciously decided to imitate the carer’s gestures.

A study by Murray (’85) allowed 2 month old infants to view and interact with their mother on a video monitor in real time. The baby was then exposed to an image of their mother where she did not respond. Babies showed acute distress and tried to attract the mother’s attention to gain a response to their gesturing. This provides evidence that reciprocal synchrony is genuine imitation as the babies actively sought to interact with the mothers and were not being rewarded for doing so. This finding supports Meltzoff’s view that interactional synchrony is innate.

Researchers cannot ever show cause and effect relations between care-giver interactions and the development of attachment because it would be ethically wrong and impossible to artificially manipulate the amount/quality of caregiver-infant interaction.

To overcome difficulties in studying this field such as lack of ecological validity, researcher bias and ethical issues, researchers should try to conduct as much research as possible in natural contexts – for example, in the family home, be as unobtrusive as possible when carrying out research and make sure other observers are present to make sure observations are reliable, and ensure that research is conducted in such a way as to prevent distress to the infant (e.g. protection from psychological harm).


A study into the stages of attachment

  • Schaffer and Emerson (’64) studied 60 infants who ranged from 5-23 weeks at the start of the study. Once a month, their mothers were visited and asked to rate their babies’ response to 7 different separation situations (e.g. being left alone in a room) on a scale of 1-4 and to whom the baby directed its emotional response. The researchers also measured stranger anxiety by assessing the degree of anxiety the infant showed to researchers during their visits.

From their findings, they proposed 4 stages of attachment.

  1. Indiscriminate attachment: 0-2 months. Infants produce similar responses to animate or inanimate objects and people they do or do not know. Toward the end of this period reciprocity and interactional synchrony play an increasingly important role.
  2. The beginnings of attachment: 4-7 months. Infants now prefer the company of humans to inanimate objects and can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar people. They do not yet show stranger anxiety.
  3. Discriminate attachment: 7 months +. Infants begin to show separation anxiety (distress and anxiety at being separated from their main carer) and happiness on reunion with the carer. Thus, they have formed a specific attachment to the primary attachment figure. They also exhibit stranger anxiety: fear and moving away from people they do not know.
  4. Multiple attachment: 7 months +. Soon after stage 3, infants form multiple attachments to other carers: e.g. father, grandmother, etc. and will also show separation anxiety from these figures. Schaffer found that 29% of infants formed secondary attachments within 1 month of attachment to the primary attachment figure and 78% within 6 months.


  • Asking mothers to self-report on their infant’s distress may lead to a lack of validity in that mothers may be unwilling to report or underestimate distress thinking that it reflects badly on them as mothers. Equally, some mothers may be less sensitive to signs of distress so less likely to report it.
  • Schaffer’s sample was drawn from traditional working-class families in Glasgow in the 1960’s. Findings from this limited sample may not be generalisable to modern families where child-rearing practices are considerably different: e.g. mother more likely to work, fathers more involved in child-rearing.
  • There may be cross-cultural differences in the development of attachment depending on child-rearing practices. Tronick (‘92) studied the Efe people of Zaire who live in extended family groups. The infants were looked after and breastfed by different women but slept with their own mother at night, thus we might expect to find more multiple-attachments. Despite such differences in childrearing practices, however, the infants showed one primary attachment to the mother. This provides support for the stage theory of attachment.


Schaffer found it was far less common for fathers to be primary attachment figures. Although this may have been because they spend less time with their infant, Lamb (’77) found little relationship between amount of time fathers spent with their baby and strength of attachment bond. This implies that babies are less likely to attach to fathers which could be explained because:

  1. Babies are biologically predisposed to attach to female mothers.
  2. Females are biologically predisposed to show the sensitivity necessary for a strong attachment bond to form: for example, higher levels of oestrogen in females may produce more caring behaviour.
  3. Men are less sensitive to infants’ needs and thus are psychologically less able to form strong attachments.
  4. Social and cultural norms lead men to acting less sensitively to their infants and take a secondary role in infant care.

However, although research shows that men are, in general, less sensitive to their babies need, they do exhibit as much physiological arousal (e.g. stress, anxiety) as mothers when shown videos of their babies crying. Clearly, cases of single fathers very successfully attaching to their babies indicates that men are capable of being a primary attachment figure, but they may be less predisposed to doing so by biological, social and cultural factors.

The traditional father role compliments the more caring, sensitive role played by the mother in that the father encourages exploratory behaviour which exposes babies to more challenging situations.




Behavioural Learning Theory proposes that babies are not born with a need to attach but learn to do so through the processes of classical and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning

  • Food (the unconditioned stimulus) produces pleasure (the unconditioned response).
  • The person who feeds the baby becomes associated with the food, and the pleasure the baby feels towards the food, the baby starts to feel towards the feeder.
  • The feeder now becomes the conditioned stimulus and the food the conditioned response. In this way attachment is formed.  

Operant conditioning

  • Operant conditioning suggests that when a behaviour produces pleasure, or stops an unpleasant sensation (i.e. the behaviour is reinforced), then it is likely to be repeated in the future.
  • Therefore, a baby learns that crying will result in it being fed which will remove hunger (negative reinforcement) and given attention (positive reinforcement). Therefore, the baby becomes attached to the parent – the source of this reinforcement.
  • Similarly, for the parent, feeding and giving attention to the baby removes the unpleasant crying (negative reinforcement), so they attach to the baby.

EVALUATION - weaknesses

Learning theory has some serious limitations as an explanation of attachment.

Schaffer and Emerson (‘64)

  • Studied babies for the first year of their lives to monitor attachment behaviour.
  • In 39% of the babies, the first attachment figure was the person who carried out physical care such as feeding and changing - it was more likely to be the person who was sensitive to and played with the baby.
  • This suggests that food is not the primary reason for attachment, as proposed by Learning Theory.

Harlow (‘59)

  • Harlow gave baby rhesus monkeys who had been removed from their mothers at birth the choice of a wire ‘surrogate mother’ with a milk bottle or a wire surrogate mother covered in a soft cloth (but no milk).
  • Learning Theory would predict that they would become attached to the wire monkey with the milk, but the monkeys attached to the cloth mother and in times of distress would run to it for comfort.
  • This suggests that attachment is not based on the need for food but an innate need for comfort and security.
  • As Harlow’s research is based on monkeys we should be cautious in directly generalising findings to humans.


Bowlby proposed that attachment is adaptive, meaning that it exists because it maximizes our chances of survival. Hence we have an innate drive to become attached to a caregiver because attachment has long-term benefits – ensuring that infants stay close to a caregiver who will feed, protect and nurture them.

  • Bowlby proposed that attachment should take place within a critical period of 3 to 6 months. He argued that if babies do not form an attachment during the critical period they will have difficulty forming relationships with others in later life and be socially and psychologically maladjusted.
  • An infant has an innate drive to display social releasers (e.g. smiling and crying) that cause care-giving from adults.
  • The baby will have one primary attachment figure (monotropy), usually the mother.
  • The first attachment relationship is a model for and creates expectations about what all future relationships will be like (the internal working model). For example, a secure, trusting relationship with the mother creates positive expectations about what future relationships with friends and partners will be like and creates healthy psychological and emotional adjustment. Thus, there is a mirroring (the continuity hypothesis) of the 1st relationship with the mother in later relationships.

EVALUATION - strengths

Research evidence supporting monotropy theory

Harlow (’59)

  • In Harlow’s study, the monkeys formed one-way attachments with unresponsive mothers and became, as adults, emotionally and socially maladjusted: they were aggressive, anti-social and had problems mating and parenting. This provides evidence for the internal working model.

Tronick et al. (‘92)

  • Studied the Efe tribe from Zaire. Although childrearing practices were different (e.g. they were breastfed by many women) they still formed one primary attachment to their mother as predicted by Bowlby, suggesting that attachment and monotropy is universal and innate.

Schaffer and Emerson (‘64)

  • Showed how strongly attached infants had mothers who responded quickly to their demands and who interacted with the infant a lot whereas mothers who failed to interact with their offspring produced weak attachments.

EVALUATION - weaknesses

  • Kagan’s temperament hypothesis argues that it is the innate personality characteristics of an infant which are responsible for attachment behaviour rather than the quality of the mother as a caregiver – a baby with a naturally anxious or aggressive temperament is more likely to form insecure attachments as an infant and in later life. Equally, the innate personality characteristics of the infant will influence how sensitive and responsive the mother is likely to be. Twin studies have found that temperament for MZ twins has a higher concordance than DZ twins suggesting that personality type is, to some extent, genetic rather than acquired as a result of interaction with the attachment figure.
  • It is not always the case that poor early attachments lead to poor adult relationships. Research has suggested that positive school experiences and strong adult attachments can repair harm done in childhood.



Ainsworth (’67) expanded on Bowlby’s work and argued that mothers who were ‘sensitive’ to their infants’ needs produced a ‘secure attachment bond’ and ‘securely attached’ infants who cried little and seemed content to explore their surroundings in the presence of their mother. She argued that secure attachment as an infant led to positive social/psychological/emotional adjustment in later life and ‘insecure’ attachment led to the opposite.

Ainsworth & Bell (’78) – The Strange Situation Study

Ainsworth used the strange situation study to be able to test and classify the nature of the attachment bond between mother and infant.


  • The experiment was set up in a room with one-way glass so that the behaviour of the infant could be observed. The mother, her infant (12-18 months) and a stranger went through the procedures described below. The sample was composed of 106 middle-class American families.
  • The infant was observed to see how they would respond at each stage in terms of
  • Exploration – how much the infant explored the unfamiliar room.
  • Stranger anxiety – the response of the infant to the stranger.
  • Separation anxiety – how the infant reacted when the mother left.
  • Reunion behaviour – how the infant reacted when the mother returned.


Behaviour assessed

Parent and infant play


Parent sits and reads a magazine while the child plays


Stranger enters and talks first to the mother then interacts with the child through play and talk

Stranger anxiety

Mother leaves and stranger plays, and if necessary, comforts the child

Separation anxiety

Parent returns and stranger leaves

Reunion behaviour

Parent leaves the infant alone

Separation anxiety

Stranger enters and plays, and if necessary, comforts the child

Stranger anxiety

Parent returns and greets the infant and offers comfort

Reunion behaviour

Each of the above procedures lasted for 3 minutes. A group of observers recorded what the infant was doing every 15 seconds.


  • They found that the behaviour of the infants and mothers fell into one of 3 categories.

EVALUATION - strengths

  • Ainsworth tested the inter-rater reliability of those who observed and classified infants’ behaviours in the strange situation. This involves asking 2 or more observers to independently record a single infant’s behaviour then compare the classifications they had made for similarity. This helps avoid any bias on the behalf of individual observers. Statistical analysis of inter-rater reliability was extremely high (+0.94 [see Research Methods]).
  • A number of longitudinal studies have supported the claim that there is a link between attachment types and later social and emotional behaviour. Prior (’06) summarised findings of research as
    • Secure attachment – associated with less emotional dependence, higher achievement orientation and interpersonal harmony.
    • Avoidant attachment – related to aggressiveness and negative affect.
    • Resistant attachment – later anxiety and withdrawn behaviour.

EVALUATION - weaknesses

  • Main (‘81) found that children behaved differently in the strange situation test depending on which parent they were with. This questions the internal validity of the study, as it may be just measuring a particular relationship rather than something stable about the child’s personality.
  • As the location and activities were unnatural the child might have been acting unnaturally so we could question the study’s ecological validity: e.g. they may have displayed insecure attachment temporarily as they were in an unfamiliar situation.
  • Mothers could have shown demand characteristics. Because they knew they were being observed they may have acted more sensitively than they normally would, possibly causing their infant to display a different attachment type.
  • This study had low population validity as the participants were middle-class American infants. We may not be able to generalise the results to others cultures/social classes.


CULTURAL VARIATIONS IN ATTACHMENT (A-level Psychology resources)

If Bowlby is correct in stating that monotropic attachment is an innate, biological process, secure attachment should be the most common/best form of attachment in all cultures. However, if we find widely varying attachment patterns in different cultures we may assume that attachment type is related to cultural differences in child-rearing techniques.

A major difference in type of culture is between individualist and collectivist cultures.

  • Individualist – modern, Western; values of independence, free-will, personal choice. UK, USA, Australia, Germany, etc.
  • Collectivist – traditional, non-Western; values of interdependence, duty and obligation to family/community. India, Japan, China, Israel, etc.

We may expect, therefore, to find high levels of Resistant-Insecure attachments in collectivist cultures (indicates an excessively dependent bond on mother and fear of separation), and high levels of Avoidant-Insecure attachments in individualist cultures (indicates an excessively weak bond with mother and an independent character type).


Some studies support Bowlby’s view that there are universal similarities in attachment behaviour. For example:

Tronick (‘92)

  • Studied the Efe people of Zaire who live in extended family groups.
  • The infants were looked after and breastfed by different women but slept with their own mother at night.
  • Despite such differences in childrearing practices the infants showed one primary attachment to the mother (monotropy).

Fox (’77)

  • Infants raised by nurses in communal children’s homes in Israel who spent most of their time looked after by their nurse showed equally strong attachment to their nurse and their mother in the Strange Situation study although they showed greater attachment to their mother in terms of reunion behaviour. This also provides evidence for the importance of one main primary attachment figure.


On the other hand, some studies show that cross-cultural differences in child-rearing behaviours produce different %’s of attachment types in different cultures, thus contradicting Bowlby’s claim that attachment behaviour is universal.

Van-Ijzendoorn (’88) – a study into cultural variations in attachment type


  • A meta-analysis summarised the findings of 32 studies of attachment behaviour using over 2000 strange situation observations conducted in 8 countries to assess the extent to which inter and intra-cultural differences existed in attachment type. (Inter = between different countries; intra = within the same country).


  • In general, differences between countries were small and secure attachment was the most common attachment type in all countries.
  • China: comparatively low levels of Secure attachment and high levels of both Insecure types.
  • Japan and Israel: high levels of Insecure-Resistant type (both collectivist cultures)
  • Germany: high levels of Insecure Avoidant type (an individualist culture)
  • However, intra-cultural differences were5 greater than inter-cultural differences: i.e. there was more variation in attachment type within any once culture than was between different cultures which implies that levels of different attachment types are fairly universal.
  • The difference between Japan/Israel and Germany does provide evidence that individualist/collectivist culture influences parenting style which influences attachment type in infants.

Grossman (’91)

  • Found that German children were more likely to be classified as insecure-avoidant. They claimed that this was due to German social norms regarding child-rearing where it is more usual to keep some interpersonal distance between parents and infants. Thus German children were less likely to show proximity-seeking behavior in the Strange Situation.

Takahashi (’90)

  • Tested 60 Japanese infants in the Strange Situation and found high levels of Insecure-Resistant attachment type (32%) – infants were highly distressed at being left alone. This can be explained by differences in Japanese social norms whereby mothers and infants keep very close physical bonds.

Findings from these studies also supports the idea that individualist/collectivist culture influences parenting style which influences attachment type.



Deprivation can be defined as the loss of an attachment figure/the attachment bond: for example, if the attachment figure dies or deserts the infant, or if the infant is taken into care – temporarily or permanently.

Research in the 1930’s and 40’s found that children who had experienced long-term separation from their attachment figure were often emotionally/behaviourally maladjusted (e.g. depressed, aggressive, etc.) and showed intellectual/cognitive deficits (e.g. scored poorly on IQ tests).


Using Lorenz’s concept of a ‘critical period’, Bowlby proposed that infants needed a ‘warm, intimate and continuous relationship’ with a mother or mother substitute to ensure normal psychological and emotional development and that ‘mother-love in infancy and childhood is as important for mental health as are vitamins and proteins for physical health’. If deprivation occurs from 0-2 ½ years then the above effects would definitely occur and there was a high risk of them occurring from 2 ½ - 5 years. Such deprivation could cause long-term emotional maladjustment.



  • Bowlby (’44) analysed the histories of 88 children with emotional problems, half of whom had been arrested for theft. Bowlby proposed that many of the 44 thieves showed signs of ‘affectionless psychopathy’ a lack of emotionality and empathy, and little guilt or sense of responsibility.


  • Bowlby found that 86% of the 44 thieves had experienced frequent separations from their attachment figures compared to only 17% of the other 44 children (the control group). 39% of the thieves had experienced early separations whereas none of the control group had. Thus, he concluded that deprivation caused affectionless psychopathy.



It is usually assumed that physical separation is emotionally harmful, however even when the mother is present (i.e. there is no deprivation) if she is psychologically separated from the child (i.e. she neglects them) emotional maladjustment may occur. For example, Radke-Yarrow (85) found that 55% of children raised by severely depressed mothers displayed insecure attachment.


Although deprivation can lead to long-term emotional maladjustment this is not always the case. Bifulco (92) assessed women who had experienced deprivation either through death of the mother or temporary separation. He found that 25% of these women later suffered depression or an anxiety disorder compared to only 15% of women who had experienced no deprivation. However, mental health problems were far more likely if separation had occurred before the age of 6 (supporting the concept of a critical period).


Schaffer (‘59) studied the effect of age on infants’ responses to separation. Of 76 infants aged between 3 and 51 weeks of age who were admitted to a children’s hospital, they found that children younger than 7 months showed minimal upset. The strength of the child’s response increased up to about 18 months with the most severe reaction being between 12 and 18 months. This indicates that there are age differences in regards to the effects of deprivation. Having a relatively large sample size, we can generalise these results with confidence.


Rutter criticised Bowlby’s failure to distinguish between children who had never experienced an attachment bond at all (what Rutter called privation: e.g. being put into an orphanage at birth) and children who had an attachment bond which was then broken/disrupted (what Rutter called deprivation). Rutter argued that privation would cause far worse long-term effects than deprivation.



In the 1960’s the Romanian president tried to force population growth by banning abortion and promoting large families. When his leadership collapsed in 1989 it was found that more than 100,000 orphans were living in over 600 orphanages/institutions – often in extremely poor conditions. Apart from having no attachment figure, they were mentally under-stimulated, malnourished and uncared for.

RUTTER (‘10)


  • Rutter conducted a study of 165 Romanian adoptees111 adopted before the age of 2, 54 by the age of 4. Children were tested aged 4, 6, 11 and 15 to assess their physical, cognitive and social development, and assessed against a control group of 52 British children adopted before the age of 6 months old.


  • At the age at which they were adoption the Romanians scored worse than the British control group on measures of social, cognitive and physical development. However, by the age of 4 this gap had been reduced – particularly for those children adopted before the age of 6 months. Follow up studies indicate substantial deficits in those adopted after 6 months with signs of poor peer relations and disinhibited attachment - a form of insecure attachment where children do not discriminate between people to whom they try to attach to, being overly friendly, clingy and attention seeking.

In a longitudinal study of 36 orphans, Le Mare (06) found that physical health and growth deficits were made up by the age of 10 when these children were adopted.

In general, studies indicate that if institutionalised children have an early chance to form attachment the initial negative effects of institutionalisation can be reversed but if there is a long term failure to form attachment negative consequences are likely to be severe.


Studies of Romanian adoptees do not allow us to draw direct conclusions about the direct effect of deprivation as children also experienced physical, nutritional and cognitive deprivation as well. These other factors act as extraneous variables when trying to determine cause-effect relationships between institutionalisation and its effects.

Other signs of institutionalisation observed in studies of Romanian orphans include:

  • Physical undernourishment – lack of emotional care causes stress which interferes with growth hormones. Gardner (72) studied a baby who had to be permanently fed through a feeding tube and whose mother, therefore, could not pick up or hold her. At 8 months the baby was severely withdrawn and physically stunted. She was admitted to a hospital where staff could hold and cuddle her and she returned to normal despite no change in diet.
  • Intellectual deficits - Skeels (39) found that children showed declining cognitive abilities (lower IQ scores) once admitted to institutions – probably as a result of a lack of stimulation.
  • Poor Parenting - Harlow’s monkeys went on to become poor parents themselves. This is supported by Quinton’s (’84) study of 50 women who had been raised in children’s homes. Compared to a control group of women raised in traditional families, the ex-institutional women experienced extreme difficulties in acting as parents: for example, more of the ex-institutional group’s children were themselves taken into care due to poor parenting.


There are a number of well-documented cases of children who have experienced extreme deprivation. Genie was locked in a dark room until 13½. When found, she could not stand upright, could not acquire speech, and was disinterested in people. Despite intense psychological intervention she never recovered. Psychologists are unsure, however, whether her cognitive deficits were due to her extreme deprivation or whether she was mentally retarded as a result of lack of stimulation in infancy.



Bowlby proposed that the early relationship with our primary care giver provides the basis for how we will think, feel and act in later adult relationships – the infant develops an internal working model from their first relationship with their primary care giver. This consists of a view of themselves as loveable or not and a model of other people as basically trustworthy or not. Young children develop attachment styles in their early relationships which influence later relationships by providing the child with beliefs about themselves, other people and relationships in general.

Hazen (87) – a study testing the internal working model


  • Hazan used a ‘love quiz’ which measured individuals’ attachment experiences as children and current attitudes to love and romantic relationships on over 600 American males and females.


  • Adults who were securely attached as children went on to form trusting, positive relationships with partners and believed in enduring love
  • insecure-avoidant types were fearful of emotional closeness and believed love was not long-lasting
  • Insecure-resistant types were preoccupied by love, fell in love easily but had trouble finding real satisfaction with partners.
  • This supports the hypothesis that parenting styles create an internal working model which influences attachment type which has long-lasting consequences on personality and motivation.

Evaluation of Hazan (87)

  • Hazen’s study has the advantage of having a large sample meaning we can generalise results, however, as it was conducted in the USA, it only measures western-style relationships and is, therefore, ethnocentric. There could also have been demand characteristics with participants giving socially desirable answers: g. exaggerating how positive their relationships were rather than being honest.
  • This theory supposes that our adult relationships are dictated by our early experiences, an example of determinism, which ignores the free-will that people have to overcome past attachment experiences and create positive relationships with partners.
  • Poor Parenting - Harlow’s monkeys went on to become poor parents themselves. This is supported by Quinton’s (’84) study of 50 women who had been raised in children’s homes. Compared to a control group of women raised in traditional families, the ex-institutional women experienced extreme difficulties in acting as parents: for example, more of the ex-institutional group’s children were themselves taken into care due to poor parenting. This suggests that as individuals who have not formed a healthy internal working model themselves will experience problems forming relationships with their own children.
  • Rutter (99) identified a group of people who had experienced problematic relationships with their parents but had gone on to achieve secure, stable and happy adult relationships. This suggests even if early attachment types are influential, it is not completely determinist as individuals can break away from early life events.
  • Zimmerman (00) studied a group of children growing up in Germany, and found that child attachment type did not predict adult attachment type. Life events such as the divorce of parents or parental illness or death had much more influence on later security. This suggests there are individual differences in the influences of early attachment type on later relationships. Also, it suggests that there are other, perhaps more important, influences on adult relationships.