An attachment is an affectional tie that binds child and caregiver together for an enduring length of time, (class notes). This essay shall discuss Bowlby`s views on the negative impact of maternal deprivation early on in life; as well as the changes in care provided to children, that was brought about by his work. Maternal deprivation is described in the class notes as the ‘loss’ of care normally provided by the ‘primary’ caregiver; who is the adult that the child is mostly attached to.
Such a loss cannot be substituted by emotional care from another person. The term ‘privation’ is used to describe a situation in which a child does not form an attachment at all. Bowlby has argued that a ‘secure’ attachment is important for healthy development as it creates confidence, independence and a sense of well-being. Whereas an ‘insecure’ attachment, (as well as privation), can cause the opposite; infants who do not feel loved and valued will have a lower sense of self-esteem, and feel less confident in exploring their surroundings.
Bowlby`s theory of attachment, which focussed on the positive outcomes of childhood attachment and the negative outcomes resulting from loss (or lack) of this, was influenced by psychoanalysis. Bowlby, who was trained as a psychoanalyst, substituted maternal, for oral, deprivation in his theorising, (Flanagan, 1999). Whilst focussing on the possible pathological consequences of deprivation in the 1950s, the central hypothesis was that maternal care was as necessary for mental health as vitamins are for physical health.
Bowlby proposed that the mental health of deprived children would suffer, and that such children were likely to display ‘affectionless psychopathy’. Affectionless psychopaths, according to Bowlby, were characterised by a lack of social conscience and a high level of delinquency, (Hayes and Stratton, 2004). As well as psychoanalysis, his theory was also influenced by ethology; Bowlby believed that both infant and caregiver act on ‘instinctual’ behaviours, that are designed to aid survival.
Infants commonly focus on their carers face, and have rounded facial features, big eyes (and a pleasant smell), to make them look ‘adorable’, to the caregiver, whom the child is dependent on. Babies also cry (or make other noises) when in need of food or comfort to elicit care giving, and the caregiver is innately programmed to respond to such behaviours; which in turn maintains a good degree of proximity between the two, and allows an attachment to form.
If the ethological view is correct, then innate attachment behaviours must be universal; and cross cultural research does generally tend to support this. Infants do appear to form a primary attachment in all cultures; however with some exceptions and cultural variations in the way that people of different cultures relate to their infants. So while there are some differences, certain ‘aspects’ of attachments can be considered innate, (Flanagan, 1999).
For example, up until around the age of six or seven months, infants are relatively content with whoever cares for them; after this period they begin to express ‘separation anxiety’ (distress at being separated from their favoured carer). Konner (1981, cited in Flanagan, 1999), reported that the same applies to almost every culture at around the same age.