Sigmund Freud developed the psychoanalytic
approach to child development. Freud believed that the unconscious
mind contained repressed memories of childhood experiences and, in
particular, of early childhood conflicts and emotions.
Freud was convinced that the first five years
of life had a permanent effect on development.
(Freud's ideas are covered in more detail in his case study
of Little Hans).
There are, of course, many criticisms of
Freud's theory of child development. However many psychoanalysts (or
neo-Freudians) still accept Freud's basic approach and have modified
his ideas in several ways.
A theory, which was influenced from the
psychoanalytic emphasis on the first few years of life as
all-important in development, was developed by Bowlby, in 1951. Bowlby considered that relationships between infants and
their mothers developed as a result of a process known as
imprinting. This was a kind of learning, which occurred in the first
stage of infancy, and which established a deep attachment on the
part of a young animal towards its parent. Imprinting has been
studied extensively in animals, and Bowlby considered that a similar
process was responsible for the development of attachments between
human infants and their mothers, at the age of about seven months.
Because of this Bowlby developed the idea of
monotropy: the idea that a human infant would develop only one
special attachment to its mother, which was completely different
from the other relationships which it developed, and that it would
cause the child great distress and lasting damage if it was broken.
It was essential, he thought, that the infant remained in almost
continual contact with its mother during the first five years of
Bowlby concluded that juvenile delinquency was
one effect of the lasting damage which maternal deprivation could
produce, and that separating young children from their mothers, even
temporarily, could have this kind of effect. Other studies claimed
to have demonstrated similar damaging affects of maternal
deprivation, such as maternally deprived children being less
intelligent, or suffering from 'affectionless psychopathy' i.e. a
complete lack of social conscience or social relationships.
Therefore, according to Bowlby, maternal
deprivation can have damaging effects for the child.
However, most psychologists are highly
sceptical about Bowlby’s findings but this has stimulated much
research into the importance of attachments.
The study by Hodges and Tizard is an example of a study which
has attempted to investigate the importance of attachments by
looking at children who spent their first two years of life in
institutions before being adopted into families.
The aim of Hodges and Tizard's study was to
examine the effect of institutional upbringing on later attachments.
Related to this they were also investigating
if early deprivation effects could be reversed or at least modified
and investigating whether there are critical or sensitive periods
for the development of behaviour.
To study the effects of early experience on
later development Hodges and Tizard used a longitudinal approach. A
longitudinal approach is where a group of participants are followed
up after a period of time, in this case 16 years.
Longitudinal studies are usually found in the
area of developmental psychology because they are ways of studying
change over time. It is important to recognise that longitudinal
studies represent an approach and not an actual method of collecting
data. To collect their data Hodges and Tizard used various
self-report measures, interviews, and assessment scales, with the
participants themselves (adolescents) and their parents and
The participants in the study were all aged 16
and had all been in institutional care until at least two years of
age. At this age most
of the children had either been adopted or restored to biological
parents. The study
focused on 31 ex-institutional children.
A comparison group was also studied. Hodges
and Tizard compared their group of children with a matched group who
had been with their families throughout their lives. Two comparison
groups of children were established. One was drawn from the London
area, and was made up of 16-year-old children who were matched one
for one with the ex-institutional children on the basis of sex,
position in the family, whether they were from one- or two-parent
families, and the occupation of their family's main breadwinner. The
other comparison group consisted a same-sex school friend (of the
same age) for each of the ex-institutional children.
Hodges and Tizard refer to their study as a
type of natural experiment. That is, some change is, in the natural
course of events, brought about (here the child's environment - the
independent variable) which can be studied for its effect on some
aspect of the child's development (here social relationships - the
dependent variable). Those children whose environment is changed are
compared with controls whose environments have not changed, so this
represents an independent measures design. The independent variable
has two main values (adoption and restoration) and this allows the
two ex-institutional groups to be compared with each other (as well
as with the comparison groups). Natural experiments are also
referred to as quasi-experiments.
Five main methods were used to collect data on
all the adolescents (including those in the comparison groups):
1. an interview with the adolescent subject;
2. an interview with the mother (in some cases
with their father present);
3. a self-report questionnaire concerning
4. a questionnaire completed by the subjects'
school teacher about their relationships with their peers and their
5. the Rutter 'B' scale. This comprises 26
items and is used for psychiatric screening.
The researchers collected data on the
attachment to parents;
relations with siblings;
similarity and assimilation;
confiding and supporting;
disagreements over control and discipline;
involvement in the family;
specific difficulties with peer relations;
relationships between attachment and peer relationships;
relationships between current and earlier peer relations;
over friendly behaviour;
relationships to teachers.
An early finding of the study was that the
children all received good physical care in the institutions, which
also appeared to provide adequately for their cognitive development.
However, staff turnover, and an explicit policy against allowing too
strong an attachment to develop between children and the nurses who
looked after them, had given the children little opportunity to form
close, continuous relationships with an adult. This would seem to
fit Bowlby's description of maternal deprivation.
As a result of the above, the children’s'
attachment behaviour was very unusual. At two, they seemed to be
attached to a large number of adults, i.e., they would run to be
picked up when anyone familiar entered the room and cry when they
left. At the same time they were more fearful of strangers than a
home reared comparison group.
total of 33 children were placed in adoptive families after age 2.
A total of 25 children were restored to
biological parents after age 2.
At age 4 most of the ex-institutional children
formed attachments to their parents although they did show some
differences compared to the comparison group in terms of social
development. About a third were markedly attention seeking and over
friendly to strangers, and a few were indiscriminately affectionate
to all adults.
By 8, the majority of adopted children and
some of the restored children had formed close attachments to their
parents, despite their lack of early attachments in the
institutions. According to their parents, the ex-institutional
children did not present more problems than the comparison group;
but according to their teachers, more of them showed problems,
notably attention seeking behaviour, especially from adults,
restlessness, disobedience, and poor peer relationships; they were
quarrelsome and unpopular. Their earlier over-friendliness also
persisted. However the children had adequate language and cognitive
At this stage of the study it appeared that
early institutional care and the lack of close attachments had not
had the drastically damaging effects predicted by Bowlby, but on the
other hand there were indications that, despite in many cases the
formation of deep and lasting attachments to parents once the child
entered families, some of the children still showed lasting effects
of their earlier institutional rearing.
At 16 the majority of the adoptive mothers
felt that their child was deeply attached to them. By contrast only
a half of the restored children were described as deeply attached.
Adopted adolescents were also more often said by their mothers to be
attached to their father than the restored group.
Ex-institutional children had greater problems
with siblings than a comparison group.
There were no differences regarding the number
of contacts with opposite sex friends, or whether the 16 year-old
currently had a boy/girl friend compared to non-institutionalised
However, ex-institutional children had poorer
relationships with peers than a comparison group. Teachers rated the
ex-institutionalised group as more often quarrelsome, less often
liked by other children and as bullying other children more than the
comparison group. According to their mothers, the ex-institutional
adolescents were less likely to have a definite special friend.
At age 8 a number had been described as being
indiscriminately friendly towards adults. This behaviour was now
In summary Hodges and Tizard found that
maternal deprivation did not necessarily prevent the children
forming strong and lasting attachments to parents once placed in
families. Whether such attachments developed, depended on the family
environment, being much more common in adopted children than in
those restored to a biological parent. Both groups were, however,
more oriented towards adult attention and had more difficulty with
peers and fewer close relationships than matched comparison
adolescents, indicating some long term effects of their early
Therefore children who are deprived of close
and lasting attachment to adults in their first years of life can
make such attachments later. But these do not arise automatically if
the child is placed in a family, but depends on the adults concerned
and how much they nature such attachments. Yet despite these
attachments, certain differences and difficulties were found over 12
years after the child joined a family; these were not related to the
type of family, but seem to originate in the children's early
Importantly, the findings of Hodges and
Tizard's study can be used to criticise Bowlby's theory of maternal
Bowlby believed that the first few years of a
child could be seen as a critical period for the later development
of behaviour. However Hodges and Tizard demonstrate that Bowlby
greatly oversimplified the effects of maternal deprivation. They
found that children who are deprived of close and lasting
attachments to adults in their first years of life can make such
attachments later, although this does depend on the adults concerned
and how much they nurture such attachments. Rather than there being
a critical period it is possible to argue that there is a sensitive
period for the development of behaviour.
It is also important to note here that Hodges
and Tizard offer an explanation for why the adopted children were
more likely to overcome some of the problems of early institutional
upbringing better than the restored children.
The financial situation of the adoptive families was often
better, they had on average fewer children to provide for, and the
adoptive parents were particularly highly motivated to have a child
and to develop a relationship with that child. The biological
parents in Hodges and Tizard's sample seemed to have been 'more
ambivalent about their child living with them'.
The major advantage of a longitudinal approach
is that the children are being compared with themselves over a
period of time. However, ideally a follow up study for another 20 or
30 years would need to be carried out by Hodges and Tizard. It would
be interesting, for instance, to discover how the ex-institutional
children nurture children of their own.
The major disadvantage of using a longitudinal
approach is attrition. Of the 51 ex-institutional children studied
at eight, nine were unavailable: two families restored adolescents
refused contact, as did four adoptive families (all these
adolescents were still with their families). The remaining three
consisted of one girl who had been in a foster family at eight, but
disappeared in between being traced and interviewed, and another two
who had left care after eight, one to parents abroad and one to
adoptive parents who did not reply to the original letter. Because
of such attrition we have to question the representativeness of the
remaining 16 year-olds.
A further disadvantage of the longitudinal
approach is lack of control of variables. The design was a natural
or quasi-experiment as the variables could not be controlled as in a
true experiment and therefore cause and effect statements cannot be
made. Therefore other possible explanations could be found for why
the children turned out how they did. For example throughout the
study there is mention of a comparison or control group. The control
group allowed comparisons to be made and was chosen in order to
match the ex-institution children in terms of sex, one or two parent
family, social class and position in family. However any differences
between the ex-institutional group and the comparison groups at 16
years old could be put down to other factors other than other than
the early experiences of the institutionalised children. For
example, there may have been things going on in these families after
the child had been (re-) placed which could equally well have
accounted for the findings, and which had nothing to do with the
child's early institutional experience. Because of a lack of control
of variables plausible competing explanations for findings are
characteristic of quasi-experiments.
Longitudinal approaches take a long time and
are consequently expensive and once started the design cannot be
modified. It is also impossible to replicate a longitudinal study
because of societal changes.
A further limitation of the study was the
methods of collecting data. The main methods were interviews and
questionnaires. The major problem with the use of these methods is
demand characteristics. It
is difficult to know how honest parents will be about their children
and vice versa. Similarly
we do not know how honest teachers
would be, given that they may have known which pupils were
However the methods of collecting data do
provide quantitative data which can be analysed statistically.
It is difficult to see how an alternative
approach could have been as successful as the longitudinal approach
used by Hodges and Tizard. One approach has been the use of case
studies. A number of case studies have been carried out on
individuals who have had particularly deprived backgrounds and
studied the effect this has had on later development. A major
disadvantage of the case study approach is the difficulty of
generalising the findings from such a small sample.
A further approach which has been used is the
cross-sectional approach in which groups of individuals of different
ages are compared at the same point in time. A major limitation of
this approach is that it is difficult to match the relevant
variables because we are not studying changes in the same person.
Hodges and Tizard were successful in
demonstrating that Bowlby greatly oversimplified the effects of
maternal deprivation. Most psychologists would now agree that
children who are deprived of close and lasting attachments to adults
in their first years of life can make such attachments later,
although this does depend on the adults concerned and how much they
nurture such attachments. It is also accepted that rather than there
being a critical period it is better to argue that there is a
sensitive period for the development of behaviour.
The study however, can be seen as ethnocentric
in that there is an assumption in the study that there is a
particular style of family life. In reality family structure and the
norms of everyday living show cultural diversity. There is a danger
that by recognising only a particular style of family life this type
of family is seen as normal and desirable.
Hodges, J. & Tizard, B. (1989b) Social and family relationships of
ex-institutional adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and
Psychiatry, 30, 77-97.