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Attachment is essential for healthy social and emotional development. It is thought therefore that disruption of attachment might have a negative impact on social and emotional development. This disruption could occur if the infant is separated from his or her attachment figure. As Ainsworth showed in her ‘Strange Situation’ physical separation from a primary attachment figure is distressing. There are however degrees when physical separation is unavoidable.

In these instances psychologists have tried to study and analyse the situations in which subsequent emotional care could be hindered. Our first key study is brought forward in 1968-73 by psychologists Robertson and Robertson. The study was conducted on a 17 month old baby, who was placed in residential care whilst his mother went to undergo treatment in hospital. A physical bond was existent as his father visited regularly however after two days of normal behaviour John gradually changed as he made determined effort to get attention from the nurses. This competition was found difficult as the nurses were always busy and the other children were more assertive. When a state of loneliness is apparent due to the inability to find anyone john seeks comfort in an oversized teddy bear.

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He soon stops playing and cries constantly. The fact the nurses changed shifts regularly made further difficulties for an attachment to be harmonized. In the first week he greeted his father enthusiastically however by the second he meekly sits there and does not say anything upon visits. Observations state that for long periods of time he lies with his thumb in his mouth, cuddling his teddy bear. On the 9th day when his mother finally came home, John screamed and struggled to get away from her. For many months afterwards john continues to have outbursts of anger towards his mother.

Over the course of just 9 days John went from being a well adjusted pleasant child, to a child distressed by the experience to the point where upon reunion with his mother, his rejection of her was all too clear. This appears to suggest their is a clear difference between physical and emotional separation. The Robertson’s showed that when substitute emotional care is put in place, that the children did not suffer as much as those that did not have emotional care.

There observation co-insides with Harry Harlow’s Infant monkey experiment as John clung to an inanimate object to resemble the comfort he was neglected of. Do not be nave in arguing that this is unethical however as it is simply an observation of real life events. This does therefore give it high ecological validity and in turn brought with it a mass of post analytical evidence. There are certain criticisms though as Robertson and Robertson (i.e. the researchers) were the observers, which means levels of biasness could have been evident.

To look at previous studies we can even observe evidence in social and academic deprivation. Skeel’s and Dye’s studies (1939) used children that showed intelligence difficulties and transferred them to an institute for special needs adults. When the children were tested in an IQ test again they had increased, thus suggesting that the special needs adults enjoyed having children to look after and provided the missing emotional care.

This would imply good emotional care leads to good cognitive development. Skodak and Skeels therefore tested this idea in (1949) in a follow up study. They transferred some infants to be placed in a special needs institute while a control group remained in the orphanage. One and a half years later the IQ of the transferred group had dropped from 87 to 61 and the transferred group had risen from 64 to 92. This therefore supports the ideas of subsequent emotional care leads to good social (In this case academic) development. There is however a pressing ethical issue with this study as the control group were ‘left behind’ and not given the opportunity to improve, as well as potentially breaking up attachments made between groups within the orphanage.

There is a certain idea brought about by Bohman and Sigvardson (1979) that emotional ill effects can be reversed. In their study in Sweden, 26% out of 600 adopted 11 year old children were classed with the stigma as ‘problem children’. IN a follow up study ten years later, none of them were any worse off then the rest of the population. This would therefore suggest that early negative effects were reversed. This study does lack large bodies of evidence and has also been countered through the ideas of deprivation surfacing due to triggers in later life, Bufulco et al 1992.

In analysis of these studies it is apparent many of these results could be brought about through individual differences. Bowlby supports this theory through his observation of 60 children under 4 years who had tuberculosis. The nurses could not provide substitute maternal care and the children were visited only once a week therefore incurring prolonged early deprivation. When assessed in adolescence 63% were more maladjusted than the normal children, but there were more significant differences between them and their normal peers in terms of intellectual development. This suggests that those children who coped better may have been more securely attached and thus more resilient.

This shows us that it may well depend upon how securely attached an infant was in the first place – as those that are securely attached may find it easier to cope. This research and understanding of disruption of attachment as psychologists is vastly significant and is the reason for measures taken and implemented, proven through studies like Robertson’s who helped to allows parents to stay with their children under circumstances where the emotional and social welfare and development could be susceptible.

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