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Discuss the usefulness of animal studies for investigating attachment. [16 marks]

Animal studies have been largely useful in describing attachment and imprinting. Lorenz using a clutch of gosling eggs divided them with one half once incubated seeing Lorenz as their first moving thing.

Lorenz later placed the marked ducklings together to show which had imprinted on the duckling’s mother and Lorenz and they quickly divided themselves up. The animals exposed to Lorenz during the critical period of imprinting.

Harlow using rhesus monkeys studied attachment. Two wires monkeys with different heads one wire and the other wrapped in cloth were placed with eight infant monkeys. With four of the monkeys the milk was on the cloth covered wire monkey and the other four the milk was attached to the plain wire covered monkey.

Harlow during the time measurements found the amount of time the monkeys spent with each wire monkey. The findings concluded that the monkeys spent the majority of their time with the cloth covered monkey which provided contact comfort.

The usefulness of the study is supported by research in regard to imprinting. For example, Guiton using chicks showed yellow rubber gloves to feed them during the critical period and the chicks imprinted on the glove. Suggests that young animal imprint on any moving thing present during the critical period of development. The chicks were then later found trying to mate with the yellow rubber glove.

This largely corroborates with the findings originally found in Lorenz’s study as this suggests the long-lasting effects the study as this is an irreversible change affecting social and sexual behaviour known as sexual imprinting. This then links to several ethical issues within both Harlow and Lorenz’s due to the irreversible effect it had on the animals.

However, there are criticisms of imprinting as the concept of imprinting within Lorenz’s study suggests that within this context the object leads to an irreversible situation on the nervous system.

However, Hoffman suggested that this is not an irreversible change which is then further supported by Guiton which suggested that after spending time with their own species they were able to engage in normal sexual behaviour suggesting that imprinting is moderately reversible.

Another criticism of Harlow’s study was the confounding variable present within the study. The heads of the two wire monkeys within Harlow’s study varied significantly which then acted as a confounding variable with the independent variable which is whether the monkey is clothed or not.

The findings of the study lack internal validity due to the drastic difference of the heads of the monkey. This could then suggest that the monkeys possibly choose one wire monkey over the other as they preferred the physical appearance of one monkey over the other.

Both studies were done on animals which raises the question on whether it can be generalised to human behaviour. Though behaviourists believe that animal behaviour can be generalised to human behaviour the behaviour displayed by humans differ largely due to conscious decisions.

Schaffer and Emerson within their study found that infants were not predominantly attached to the person that fed them but the person who responded most sensitively to their needs.

This then suggests that Harlow’s study on rhesus monkey is not valid in determining attachment as the cognitive level of humans greatly exceed that of animals and in this context, monkeys meaning that the findings Harlow found cannot be generalised to humans.


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