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Compare And Contrast The Work Of Harry Harlow And Mary Ainsworth On Understanding

1537 words - 7 pages

Compare and Contrast the Work of Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth on Understanding Attachment.

This essay will compare and contrast the work of psychologists Harry Harlow and Mary Ainsworth. To compare and contrast will be to emphasise the similarities and differences of both Harlow and Ainsworth’s work on understanding attachment, to which they have both made great contribution. Attachment refers to the mutually affectionate developing bond between a mother and any other caregiver (Custance 2010). It is a bond in which the infant sees the caregiver as a protective and security figure. Failing to form any type of attachment during the earliest years of childhood is thought to lead to ...view middle of the document...

Harlow concluded the monkeys bonded with care givers that provided tactile comfort rather than food (Custance 2010).

Mary Ainsworth is known for her ‘Strange Situation’ (Custance 2010) studies with children. Her theory was that the quality of an infant’s attachment depends largely on the kind of attention the infant has received. She observed the attachment styles of children, mostly aged between 12 and 24 months, by placing them in an environment and recording their reactions to their mothers (or primary caregivers) leaving the room and then returning. Based on these observations Ainsworth concluded that there are different types of attachment. Three types of attachment are: ‘anxious-avoidant’, where the child shows little upset with the stranger, but will avoid contact with the parent on their return. The ‘securely attached’ child is one that will show moderate levels of proximity seeking towards the parents and is upset by their departure but deals with the parents return positively, often returning to play. The third type is the ‘anxious-resistant’ child; greatly upset by the parent’s departure and on reunion seems angry and will not be comforted or picked up (Custance 2010).

There are similarities in the work of both Harlow and Ainsworth on attachment. Firstly, both of them used studies demonstrating attachment beyond Bowlby’s idea of ‘cupboard love’ (Custance 2010), with Harlow’s experiment in the 1950’s giving an example of the power and strength of attachment with the monkeys sometimes returning to an abusive terry-cloth mother. Ainsworth, also in the 1950’s, demonstrated this attachment strength by using an assessment of the ‘secure base’ behaviour in her experiments where the children have a secure place from which they can explore the world and then return safely (Bretherton 1992). Similarly, both Harlow and Ainsworth’s studies proved the prevalence of nurture over nature (behaviour over genetics) and that the importance of parental love and affection is vital for normal childhood development.

A further similarity is that they both have been criticised following their work on attachment. Harlow has been ethically criticised for his controversial experiments with the baby monkeys in 1959 and in subsequent experiments where he subjected them to great levels of suffering, abuse and maternal deprivation (Custance 2010). Some took the view that his experiments were atrocious and cruel and Harlow himself admitted that he had no love for the monkeys and that he, indeed, did not even like animals (Custance 2010). The work of Ainsworth has also been criticised ethically because the child appears to be distressed through separation anxiety (wary or fretful reaction that infants and toddlers often display when separated from the person(s) to whom they are attached) and stranger anxiety (wary reaction to a stranger which occurs shortly after attachment to a primary caregiver) (Wadey 2010). In her Strange Situation experiment, however,...

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