Attachments recorded again. When released from the upturned

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Last updated: March 26, 2019

Attachments are a two-way, emotional bond between twospecific people that are normally created in their early stages of development.In the 1900s researchers used animal subjects to investigate why and how weattach to our caregivers in these early life experiences. Three of the mostwell-known animal studies were conducted by Konrad Lorenz, Harry Harlow andIvan Pavlov. In 1935, Konrad Lorenz devised an experiment to investigatethe mechanisms of imprinting in geese where the youngsters form an attachmentto the first large moving object they meet. Lorenz split a large group ofgreylag goose eggs into two batches clusters. One of the groups were hatched inan incubator by Lorenz, making sure he was the first large moving object theysaw, and the others hatched naturally by the mother. Immediately after birth,the naturally hatched goslings followed their mother, whereas the incubatorhatched goslings followed Lorenz.

He then marked all the goslings so that hecould determine whether they were the naturally or artificially hatched eggsand placed them beneath and overturned box. The box was lifted and followingactions were recorded again.  Whenreleased from the upturned box the naturally hatched goslings went straight totheir mother, while the incubated goslings followed Lorenz, showing noattachment to their biological mother.

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These bonds proved irreversible. Lorenznoted how imprinting would only occur within a brief time period between 4 and25 hours after hatching. Subsequently, Lorenz stated how the goslings thatimprinted onto humans would, once matured, attempt to mate with humans. Inconclusion, Lorenz discovered that imprinting is a form of attachment mainly bynidifugous birds where close contact is kept with the first large moving objectcome across in the early stages of their lives. A strength of Lorenz’s study is that his findings have beenhighly influential into attachment studies today. For example, as suggested byLorenz’s study imprinting is irreversible which suggests that attachmentformation is under biological control and that attachments happen within aspecific time frame. This is a strength because it has lead psychologists todevelop well recognised theories into child attachments.

On the other hand, aweakness of Lorenz’s study is that it can be criticised for extrapolationbecause Lorenz conducted his study on greylag geese. This is a weakness becausehumans and animals are physiologically different. The way a human infant formsan attachment with their primary caregiver could be very different to the waygraylag geese form attachments, therefore the findings cannot be generalized tohuman babies.  In 1959, Harry Harlow used rhesus monkeys to test learningtheory. Two types of surrogate mothers were constructed, a harsh ‘wire mother’and a soft ‘towelling mother’. Four conditions were set up: a cage containing awire mother producing milk and a towelling mother not producing milk, a cagecontaining a wire mother producing no milk and a towelling mother producingmilk, a cage containing a wire mother producing milk and finally a cagecontaining a towelling mother producing milk. Sixteen baby rhesus monkeys wereused, four in each condition. Harlow recorded the amount of time spent witheach mother for comfort and feeding, the monkeys were frightened with a loudnoise to test for mother preference and a larger cage was also used to test themonkeys’ degree of exploration.

Regardless of whether the mother produced milkor not, the babies preferred contact with the towelling mother when given achoice. Monkeys with only a wire surrogate had diarrhoea, which is a huge signof stress. When frightened by a loud noise, the babies clung to the towellingmothers where she was available. In the larger cage condition, monkeys withtowelling mothers explored more and visited their surrogate mother more often.In result of the study, it was learnt that rhesus monkeys have an innate,unlearned need for contact comfort, suggesting that attachment concernsemotional security more than food. Contact comfort is also associated withlower levels of stress and a willingness to explore, indicating emotionalstability. Due to Harlow conducting his study in a controlled,laboratory setting the study can be seen to have high internal validity.

Thisis because Harlow was unable to control potential extraneous variables such asthe babies not being exposed to any love or attention from their biologicalmothers which meant he was measuring what he intended to measure, factors thatcan affect the formation of attachments. However, due to his use of the highlycontrolled laboratory condition, the study cannot be reflected to real lifesituations and may have caused the monkeys to react in an artificial manner.This is a weakness because it means that Harlow wasn’t necessarily measuringthe real-life attachment formation. Therefore, the study can be criticised forlacking ecological validity. The final, large animal study in attachment is Ivan Pavlov’sstudy in to classical conditioning using dogs. Pavlov came across classicalconditioning unintentionally during his research into animal’s gastric systems.

Whilst measuring the salivation rates in dogs he discovered that they wouldproduce more saliva when they heard or smelt food. Pavlov’s dogs were eachplaced in an isolated environment and restrained in a harness. They had a foodbowl in front of them and a monitor to measure the rate the saliva producedthroughout the experiment. He found that the dogs would begin to salivate whena door was opened for the researcher to feed them. The salivation responsedemonstrated the basic principal of classical conditioning. A neutral stimulus,such as opening a door, is associated with an upcoming event – in this casebeing fed (known as the unconditional stimulus). This association is producedvia repetition, leading to a conditioned response of salivation.

He continuedhis research with other neutral stimuli which would otherwise be unlinked tothe recipient of food. These included tones produced by a buzzer, the tickingof a metronome and electric shock. The dogs would demonstrate a similarassociation between these events and food would follow. A strength of Pavlov’s study is that is highly influential toclassical conditioning research today. Due to Pavlov’s work in dogs, researchhas been produced on human classical conditioning, where bad behaviourreduction in children has had high success rates. However, a weakness ofPavlov’s study is due to his use of a restricted and isolated environment itlimits the ecological validity produced by the investigation and means that hisstudy can not be reflected in real life experiences. 

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