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Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment and Delinquency | AQA B Psychology
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Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment and Delinquency

Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment and Delinquency

  • Ethology – Observation of animal studies, he was influence by Timbergen and Lorenz
  • Imprinting – Form of learning observed in some animals after birth, results in attachment to a parent.
    • LORENZ – Goslings follow a human once they had hatched – short term response designed for bird’s safety.
  • Imprinting must occur during the first two years – critical period.

“Mother love in infancy is just as important for a child’s mental health, as vitamins and minerals are for physical health”

Essential for mental health: warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.

  • Proximity Seeking – Child has instinctual needs to be close to the mother

Main points of his theory:

  • Requirement of ONE single and exclusive bond – monotropy theory. Though, other attachments are possible, but not as intimate as the primary bond, usually with the mother.
  • Child should receive continuous care of the single attachment for the first two years (critical period). If attachment is broken during this time, the child will suffer irreversible long-term consequences of maternal deprivation.
  • Attachment formed with person most sensitive to social releasers
  • Consequences of maternal deprivation:
    • Delinquency – problematic behaviour, criminal acts
    • Affectionless psychopathy – inability to empathise with other people, lack of feeling for other
    • Intellectual retardation – below average intellectual functioning

Experiment: BOWLBY
Aim: Causes of delinquency
Method: Interviewed 44 juvenile thieves, asking about their behaviour and childhood experiences. Members of their families were also interviewed about their behaviour, family history and any family separation in childhood. A non-delinquent group was used as a control group.
Results: 14 individuals as affectionless psychopaths – 12 had been separated from their mothers during the critical period.
Conclusion: Maternal deprivation linked with delinquency. Data collected might have been invalid – interviewees might not have been able to recall such information or they might have lied.


  • Made mothers think about their own children and their care
  • Bowlby changed at least a generation of how children were raised
  • Better to be brought up by a bad mother, than institution
  • Hospitals changed: mothers encouraged to stay with their children

Alternative Views on Attachment
Monotropy – Criticised by SCHAFFER and EMERSON – Children develop more than one strong attachment, and that theattachment doesn’t have to be the mother, but to those who are most responsive to the child’s needs.

Investigate the number of attachment relationships infants have
Method: Longitudinal study of Scottish infants through their first 18 months, infants were observed and mothers interviewed about child’s responses to separation.
Results: By 18 months, infants formed more than one attachment figure, max of 5. Mother commonly selected as the primary attachment figure, 75% also said father.
Conclusion: Babies don’t usually demonstrate monotropy and usual for child to have several attachment figures. (LAMB – how babies attach simultaneously)


  • Consistent cross-culturally
  • Zaire groups have 14 carers within the groups; this has no damaging effects on the child, but brings many benefits instead.

Critical Period for Attachment

  • HODGES AND TIZARD: Children adopted as late as 7 could establish strong affectional relationships with adopted parents
  • CLARKE: Deprivation very damaging, children have spirit, which allows them to cope with difficult circumstances


  • No cause and effect for delinquency
  • Other factors need to be considered: reason for separation and way separation is handled
  • Suggested Bowlby confused ‘deprivation’  and ‘privation’
    • Deprivation: child has emotionally satisfactory relationship taken away/broken
    • Privation: never having an emotional bond in the first place
  • Privation main cause of delinquency

Study – RUTTER:

  • Study on children on the Isle of Wight, using a rating scale to measure disturbed behaviour
  • Parents/teachers asked to asses a child’s character/behaviour by agreeing/disagree with statements
  • 6% of 10/11 year olds: substantial emotional/behaviour problems
  • Children experienced stresses:
    • Death of a close relative
    • Overcrowding
    • Psychiatric illness in parents
  • Conclusion: Maternal deprivation on its own not sufficient explanation for delinquency. Well handled separations with substitute carer resulted in less chance of delinquency.
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