There are many studies done by psychologists showing some of the major impacts of early experiences and how they affect a child’s later development. But the real question is does the experience actually affect the child’s development? One of the psychologists who believed this was true was Bowlby and the study he done on the 44 thieves (children who had problems of stealing). This study compared children who were affectionless psychopaths and children who were not affectionless psychopaths and he found that 86% of those children had suffered, ‘early and prolonged separations from their mothers’.
Bowlby suggested that this related to later social maladjustment. This study did show that early experience affected the child’s later development because the children grew up with major behavioural disorders. This study was also the basis of Bowlby’s Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis. The hypothesis derived by Bowlby suggested that if an infant were unable to form a warm, close and continuous relationship with the mother then that child would have trouble forming relationships with other people in the future. Also the child would be at risk of behavioural problems just like the children In the 44 thieves study.
There were many criticisms towards this hypothesis such as other forms of deprivation may have caused the negative behaviour e.g. physical deprivation (lack of food). Some of the other studies have found no clear link between separations and maladjustment and also Rutter (1981) suggested that perhaps some other factor might cause both separation and later maladjustment such as poor living conditions.
In another study Tizard and Hodges (1989) studied the effects of being adopted or returning to the natural families to compare the differences. It was found that most of the adopted children behaved in a satisfactory way, but children who were returned to their families from an institution continued to suffer difficulties. This also criticises Bowlby’s Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis, but there were still some things, which did support Bowlby such as both the adopted, and returned children were more likely to have difficulties with peer relationships and seek adult affection indicating insecurity. However there were still criticisms within the study itself such as there were many individual differences within each group, which suggested that there are many factors at work, just not attachment experiences.
Also there are three other cases of isolation, which helps to consider this point. The first case was carried out by Mason (1942) and Davis (1947) on a girl called Isabelle. Isabelle was kept in isolation in a dark room with her mother who was deaf and could not talk. They only communicated using gestures. She was six years old when she was released and would behave like a wild animal making only croaking sounds. However she still managed to learn rapidly the normal stages of speech and after 18 months she had a very wide vocabulary.
The second case is also in comparison with the first as it also has a positive outcome. The second case involved male Czechoslovakian twins. Their mother died after she gave birth and the twins were moved around a lot from a children’s home to their aunt and finally to their father and step mother. The twins were not allowed out and were kept locked in a cupboard or cellar. They were released at seven years of age and could hardly walk and had poor speech.
Though when the correct care was given they became well adjusted and cognitive able. Both these cases indicate that despite the extreme emotional and physical deprivation suffered as children, positive attention and care would largely repair this damage and allow them to develop into well adjusted adults. This suggests that Bowlby’s hypothesis was wrong as he did not mention anything about recovery from the early experience, but only talked about the negative impacts.
The third case was done by Curtiss (1977) on a girl called Genie. Genie had a history of isolation, neglect and physical restraint, as she was kept strapped to a potty in the attic by her father. She was punished if she made a sound. She was released at 13 years of age to a foster home and was described to have a much younger appearance, was primitive, unsocialised and ‘hardly human’. Genie never managed to achieve social language or adjustment. To a certain extent this does agree with what Bowlby said but we also have to consider the age of release. In the other two cases there were positive outcomes because Isabelle and the twins were released at around the age of 7 whereas Genie had been released at 13, so age of release may be a mitigating factor. Also the quality of care Genie received in her new environment may have been lacking.