Major Movements in Psychology

Attachment Theory

How might the principles of behaviorism apply to attachment theory?

The three major attachment classifications, secure, insecure-avoidant, and insecure-resistant, can be seen to reflect predictable responses to different reinforcement schedules. They can be explained by the laws of operant conditioning. Avoidant attachment reflects the extinction of attachment-seeking behavior after these behaviors have consistently failed to elicit a response from the mother. The children in effect give up on the mother’s response. Resistant attachment reflects the opposite pattern, in which there is an increase of behavior in response to an intermittent reinforcement schedule. The child learns to crank up the attachment behaviors in order to maximize the likelihood of the desired response from the mother. Secure attachment reflects a consistent reinforcement schedule. The child has learned that attachment-seeking behaviors will be consistently and predictably rewarded, so the child simply performs them when needed and stops when they are no longer needed.


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