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AS Psychology - A Grade Essay Answers

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When writing 12 mark essays make sure you remember the following things:

  • Try to make the outline part of the essay around the same length as the evaluate part - an unbalanced essay can lose you marks!
  • Use a strength and a weakness to make sure your argument is balanced and not biased.
  • Try and write it in around 12 minutes - the exam is slightly more than a mark a minute, you don't want to spend too long on it and not have enough time to do the other questions.
  • Plan your answer in the space they give you before you actually write it - the content is not the only important aspect, structure will gain you marks too.
  • Sometimes, instead of saying 'outline and evaluate' the question will say 'discuss' - don't get confused they essentially mean the same thing!

Outline and evaluate Ainsworth's strange situation (12 Marks)


The strange situation was devised in order to measure and test the nature of attachment between an infant and their caregiver. The strange situation was used to see how infants react under stressful situations such as separation from the caregiver (causing separation anxiety) and also the presence of a stranger (stranger anxiety). It also aimed to encourage exploration by putting the infants into a novel situation and thus testing the secure base concept of Bowlby's theory of attachment. Observers watched the behaviours displayed between the infants and caregiver from behind one way mirrors and collected data every 15 seconds on various different criteria, they also measured the intensity of the behaviour on a scale of 1-7. The strange situation procedure consisted of 8 different episodes that were devised to highlight/provoke certain behaviours. Some of the behaviours included the parent leaving the room, and stranger being presented and the parent returning. The data was then collected from several studies and the results combined to make a total of 106 middle-class infants that were observed. They found that 62% of the children showed secure attachment, 15% insecure-avoidant, 15% insecure-disorganized and 8% insecure-resistant.


The biggest flaw of Ainsworth's strange situation is the fact that it may not measure the attachment type of the infant but rather the quality of the relationship between the infant and caregiver. A study conducted by Main and Weston concluded that infants behave differently depending on which parent they are with. This could mean that the strange situation doesn't fully measure what it is supposed to which ultimately decreases the validity of the strange situation as a measurement of attachment type. However it could be argued that the only relationship that matters is that of your primary caregiver which is the parent that partakes in the strange situation and the attachment with this primary caregiver determines the overall attachment type of the infant. It was also found that the strange situation was very reliable because the results of the observers were consistent with one and other and there was almost a perfect inter-observer agreement (0.94%). This increases the validity of the strange situation as a way of measuring attachment type and means that the results can be generalised and applied to similar situations.


Outline and evaluate the learning theory of attachment (12 marks)


The learning theory of attachment focuses of two concepts; operant and classical conditioning. Classical conditioning as an explanation for attachment describes the baby receiving food (and unconditioned stimulus) and producing an unconditioned response (happiness) and the mother feeding the baby will be the neutral stimulus. The baby will then experience the mother giving them food (and therefore happiness) a number of times and then learn to associate the mother (now a conditioned stimulus) with the feeling of happiness (a conditioned response) and thus an attachment will form. Operant conditioning describes attachment as a reinforced response. When a baby gets food it's discomfort will become happiness and the baby will associate this feeling with food and therefore food will become the primary reinforcer. The person feeding the baby will also be associated with the happiness and therefore become the secondary reinforcer and an attachment will form.


Even though the learning theory of attachment provides an adequate explanation of attachment it is flawed. Research evidence, such as that of Harlow's monkey study, opposes the idea of learning theory as an explanation of attachment. Harlow's monkey study involved giving a baby monkey the choice of either food or comfort (food was portrayed by a wire 'monkey' with a feeding bottle attached to it and comfort was portrayed by a wire 'monkey' covered in cloth). According to the learning theory of attachment the monkey should have spent most of his time on the food 'monkey, however the opposite was true - the monkey spent the majority of his time on the comfort 'monkey'. This decreases the validity of the learning theory of attachment as an explanation for attachment because the findings of Harlow's monkey study opposed what it suggested. However, the monkey study was conducted on monkeys and it could be argued that this is not an accurate representation of human attachment. Humans are a lot more complex than animals and so therefore research on animals to study behaviour cannot be applied to human behaviour.

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lor on June 17, 2019:

What are some of the strengths of this method? Do you think it measures attachment?

What are some limitations to the procedure?

Do you think infants experience the procedure differently, based on their life experiences or temperament? How do you think this might influence the way they react in the episodes?

zzz on December 08, 2016:

thanks for doing my psychology homework ;)

Rayleigh on March 18, 2015:

Thank you so much! Really Helpful

J on September 27, 2014:

Soooo straightforward and helpful!

DK from London on May 18, 2013:

Awesome, I learned so much!

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