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Exam technique advice

Example Answer for Question 18 Paper 1: AS Psychology, June 2017 (AQA)

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA

Section C - Attachment

18 Attachment Essay [8 marks]

Suggested Answer: The learning theory of attachment explains how children become attached to their mother (or parents) through the process of classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Children ‘learn’ to attach to their mother by associating their mother with food, and the pleasure they receive from being fed.

For example, before conditioning, food (e.g. milk) is an unconditioned stimulus which produces an unconditioned response (reflex) of relief from hunger. The caregiver (usually the mother) is originally a neutral stimulus; however, during conditioning, the baby associates the mother who feeds them (the neutral stimulus) with the food (the unconditioned stimulus) which results in the mother becoming a conditioned stimulus. This leads to a conditioned response of relief from hunger and the formation of an attachment, as the child learns to associate the mother with feelings of relief and happiness.

Evidence from Harlow contradicts the learning theory of attachment. Harlow found that baby monkeys spent more time with a soft towelling monkey (which did not provide food), in comparison to a wire monkey which did provided food. This suggests that baby monkeys do not form attachments based on food, but actually prefer ‘contact comfort’. This goes against the learning theory of attachment which suggests that children attach on the basis of an association forming between the mother and food.

A second issue with the learning theory is that the theory and research is largely based on studies using non-human participants. Learning theorists argue that the principles of learning are the same in humans and animals; however, many psychologists argue that not all human behaviours can be explained in terms of conditioning, especially attachment. For example, psychologists like Bowlby argue that attachments are a complex behaviour that is an adaptive behaviour that aids survival. This suggests that the learning theory of attachment presents an overly simplified view of attachment, and many psychologists argue that attachment is far more complex than an infant forming an association between a mother and food.


Please Note: This answer only explores classical conditioning as it’s an eight mark essay, not a 12 mark essay. I felt that this answer has sufficient detail using just classical conditioning to warrant a top mark band. 

These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.

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