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John Bowlby





Jill Hodges and Barbara Tizard (1989)

Social and Family Relationships of Ex-institutional Adolescents




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 life.

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 teachers.

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 'social difficulties';

4. a questionnaire completed by the subjects' school teacher about their relationships with their peers and their teachers;

5. the Rutter 'B' scale. This comprises 26 items and is used for psychiatric screening.

The researchers collected data on the following issues:

attachment to parents;
relations with siblings;
showing affection;
similarity and assimilation;
confiding and supporting;
disagreements over control and discipline;
involvement in the family;
peer relationships;
specific difficulties with peer relations;
special friends;
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.

 A 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.

Age 4

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.

Age 8

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 skills.

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.

Age 16

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 adolescents.

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 less present.

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 institutional experiences.

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 institutional experience.



Importantly, the findings of Hodges and Tizard's study can be used to criticise Bowlby's theory of maternal deprivation.

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'.


Evaluation of Procedure

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 ex-institution children?

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.


Evaluation of Explanation

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.




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BANYARD, P. AND GRAYSON, A. (2000) Introducing Psychological Research; Seventy Studies that Shape Psychology, 2nd Edition. London: Macmillan