Bowlby’s Theory of Maternal Deprivation

The psychology of separation.docx We will use this handout in class when researching James and Joyce Robertson’s work on separation

Separation.pptx A powerpoint which introduces work on separation by The Robertsons

problem page hw.docx This sheet prompts you to apply all your knowledge of Bowlby’s theory/maternal deprivation hypotheses and of all the studies of separation/deprivation.

Long term effects of separation.doc This sheet describes Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis (MDH) and provides some supporting evidence from which you can weave your evaluation.

revision MDH.doc support mdh.doc Speech bubble sheets where you can record Bowlby’s own supporting evidence for this MDH and Rutter’s position:

ruuter on bowlby.pptx PowerPoint which briefly summarises Rutter’s criticsms of Bowlby’s MDH

Visit the key studies page to find out about Bowlby’s own study ‘The 44 Thieves’ which he used to support the MDH.

Evaluating results of research into separation/deprivation: this was a question from the sample assessment materials which you may have found tricky; have a look at my answer; I did this really quickly so hope its helpful! Evaluating the findings of research into deprivationMODEL.doc

Two smartboard shows originally devleoped for AQA but content is still relevant and I though quite helpful for this topic: MDH revision notebook (a.wood v1).notebook MDH suppotying studies and AO2.notebook

How can the negative effects of deprivation be reduced?

How can negative effects be reduced?

What are the negative effects of separation/deprivation?
  • Protest, despair, detachment model (Robertson’s film footage of hospitals) (make sure you can describe what is meant by each of these terms)

If separation is prolonged or frequent can lead to:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anaclitic depression
  • Developmental retardation (intellectual delay)
  • Deprivation dwarfism
Robertson and Robertson (1971) showed in their study that the effects of separation (i.e. the PDD model) were greatly reduced when children received substitute mothering from a warm, emotionally available, sensitive and responsive care-giver.
This suggests that when children are separated from their families they need to be looked after by people who are well trained in how to care for children social and emotional wellbeing, not just to meet their physical needs (such as feeding and washing them).
Joyce Robertson also …
  • made sure that the children had visited her home with their mothers before the separation so that the surrounding were familiar,
  • encouraged the children to talk about the absent parents
  • to bring toys from home to maintain some consistency
  • encouraged Kate to use dolls to act out stories about the reunion with her parents
  • maintained consistency with the child’s normal routines and offered her the food that she liked to have at home
  • encouraged daily visits from the father when possible (Jane)
Make sure you can evaluate this study especially talking about individual differences in the children as bad effects of separation were not reduced in all of the children
This is further supported by the study of Widdowson (1951) who showed that when a harsh and unsympathetic supervisor in the children’s home was replaced by a warmer and more caring supervisor, the children even started to grow and put on weight, reversing the effects of anaclitic depression that had set in with the previous care-giver.
However a study by Bowlby (1956) found that substitute mothering may not be completely necessary as in his study, despite separations of between 5 and 24 months for children who had been hospitalised with TB initially under the age of 4, there were no measurable ill effects; the children showed few differences in terms of educational and emotional development when compared with their peers later in childhood. It is possible that this was due to the fact that the children received regular weekly visits from their families.
This demonstrates the importance of maintaining contact with the children’s own family on a regular and predictable basis.
Studies of day care have shown how the effects of regular but short term separations can be reduced, for example, the EPPE study (Sylva et al 2004) showed that for children’s socio-emotional development to be enhanced rather than hindered, the provision must be high quality meaning that…
  • staff should be well qualified
  • should make warm and interactive relationships with children; Allhusen et al (2003) found positive correlations between observer ratings of sensitivity and responsiveness, positive attitudes towards the children and amount of stimulation provided by the child care workers and the children’s social competence and quality of interaction; they also found that incidence of behavioural problems decreased as the workers’ skills increased.
  • having a trained teacher as a manager and a good proportion of trained teachers on the staff
  • educational and social development are viewed as complementary and equal in importance
other ways in which the effects of separation can be reduced when children start nursery are to have a proper transition plan whereby
  • the child is an assigned key worker who is the first point of contact for meeting the child’s emotional needs
  • the key worker should be trained in how to fulfil this role effectively
  • s/he should liaise regularly with the parents about the child’s routines, needs and progress
  • the key worker should collect as much information as necessary from the parents in order to provide an experience which is consistent with the home
  • the key worker may visit the child at home (on their own territory) in order that the child feels more comfortable with them
  • one the first few visits the parents may stay at the nursery with the child, gradually leaving the child for longer and longer periods
  • this is supported by Ahnert et al (2004) who compared attachment security in infants who were left straight away by their parents and infants whose parents used a gradual approach to starting nursery;
  • the former group showed more movement from secure to insecure attachment style following the start of day care whilst those in the latter group were more likely to maintain their secure attachment


Michael Rutter noted that Bowlby did not clearly operationalise what he meant by deprivation in his maternal deprivation hypothesis and so he coined the term ‘privation’ meaning a complete failure to form an attachment (distinct from bond disruption, whereby an attahcment if formed and later broken) and suggested that some of Bowlby’s 44 juvenile thieves had experienced privation not deprivation thus accounting for their extreme antisocial behaviour.

Research suggests that the effects of privation may be more severe and pervasive than deprivation including failure to reach cognitive and language milestones and social and emotional problems such as affectionless psychopathy, which may lead to exploitation of others and a failure to experience guilt or remorse.
Case studies of children who have been neglected or abused have conflicting findings about whether the effects of privation are reversible as following rehabilitation, Genie never developed age-appropriate language skills or social behaviour, while the Koluchova twins went onto complete their education, get married and have their own children.
Further research in this area has been conducted on children living in institutions where they have not received adequate ‘mothering’ and have shown enduring social and emotional problems in comaprison to control groups who have been raised at home, (e.g. Hodges and Tizard). Further research in this area has suggested that the longer a child’s privation experience the more ingrained the effects and the more difficult it is for the child to overcome the problems.
This said studies of adopted Romanian orphans conducted by Michael Rutter in the UK have indicated that children are far more resilient than one might think, and many of these children have grown up to live fulfiling and productive lives, meaning that the jury is still out regarding the reversibility of the effects of privation.

Case studies of privation

When evaluating these studies, think about the strengths and weaknesses of the case study as a research method, but always try to make these more general methodoliogcal points relevant to the actual case study being discussed; if they do not apply to the particular study you are talkiing about, do not use them! Also when you are using these studies to argue whether privation is reversible or not, do not get carried away with details of the case description, just outline whether the child has developed normally in each area physcial, intellectual, emotional and social, if they have then this refutes the idea that privation is reversible! You should also practice comparing the studies.
  1. Curtiss (1977) Genie: A case study of extreme privation This is a key study that you must know inside out and it therefore has its own page to itself!
  2. Koluchova (1972): The Czech twins koluchova reading.docx
  3. Freud and Dann (1951) War Orphans: A case of privation in 6 war orphans.docx

Studies of children in institutions

  1. Hodges and Tizard (1989): This is a good example of a natural experiment and it is also a longitudinal study so don;t forget to use it a an example if you need to hodges and tizard.pdf hodges and tizardsummary.doc The summary does not inlcude conclusions or evalaution points which you will need to add yourselves.
  2. Dennis 91973): Wayne Dennis.docx
  3. Skodak and Skeels: privation insitution study readings.docx

Putting it all together

A page to record summaries of eahc of the studies and to make a decision about whether they support or go against the idea that the effects of privation are reversible.
A page to assess your knowledge of studies of privation; guess the study from the clues and then a writign frame to help you preparwe for an essay on privation.
Two example essays about privation and whether the effects can be reversed or not; compare the essays to the mark shcemes and see where you award marks and whether you think there is anything that could be added to improve the essays.