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Mother Love In Infancy Is As Important For Mental Health As Are Vitami

ns And Proteins For Physical Health. (Bowlby, 1951) Discuss.

During the 1930s and 1940s John Bowlby, considered one of the most influential child psychiatrics, worked at a clinic for mentally disturbed adolescents. It was in this context that, between 1936 and 1939, he conducted a research on the case history of 44 patients, among whom a few had been convicted for various minor crimes, particularly for theft.

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The outcome of his research revealed that that 17 of them had been separated from their mother for more than six months, before the age of five.
From a later similar research on other 44 adolescents mentally disturbed but with no criminal tendency, emerged that only two had been deprived of the mother’s care.

Basing on these observations Bowlby concluded that maternal deprivation contributes to delinquency.

His scientific publication entitled 44 Juvenile Thieves, gives an accurate explanation on how he reached his conclusion. He seems to have overlooked several other variables which could have well explained this criminal tendency, including the reasons of the separation in the first place.

Despite the relevance of his research it appears that, only 40 per cent of a small sample of just 44 subjects deprived of their mother’s care sometime in the childhood, had manifested deviant behaviours. Moreover, it has to be taken into account the environment in which these children were somehow reared.
The pre-war economic depression could have well been a dominant factor in shaping their personality.

Another relevant research was carried out by William Goldfarb during the 1940s. He studied two groups of 15 orphans in New York matched for sex, age and social background of their deceased parents. Goldfarb visited these two groups four times, at the age of three, six, eight and twelve, measuring their progress, language skills and ability to form relationships. He reported that the children adopted earlier did far better than the children who had spent more time within the orphanage walls.

This practically was the kind of evidence highlighted by Bowlby in terms of early deprivation of mother’s care.

Again, from this longitudinal study, other conclusions can be drawn. For instance, being almost impossible to measure babies’ intelligence, there is no evidence of the pre-existing capacities of these two groups sample. The fact that some of them had been chosen for adoption rather than others, could mean that they were already more intelligent or lively or inclined to form relationships easier.

In opposition to Bowlby’s theories there are equally relevant studies.

Ann and Alan Clarke’s observation on six war orphans for example, consistently challenge the point of view that early deprivation permanently affects child development.

This case history sees six one-year-old children confined into a concentration camp, soon after their fathers died in World War Two. Although the conditions were severely proving, lack of food, scarce attention and not to mention that occasional strangers were rearing them, these children seemed to be fairly close to each other. They would cope with daily problems almost independently and turn to adults only when they effectively needed something. The six children eventually learned to speak with no apparent difficulty and started to form solid relationships with adults, though they remained close to each other.
This form of attachment, despite of the under-stimulating rearing environment, shows that children can ?survive? without mothers.

Another example of challenging theories comes from Czech researcher Jarmila Koluchova.

In 1972 she reported the case of two 12-year-old twins who had suffered severe deprivation. Their mother died shortly after they were born at the age of one and they were taken to the hospital and found normal and healthy infants.

The father remarried and their new stepmother turned to be cruel and insensitive towards them, inflicting severe physical punishments. Many other factors had also worsened their growing. The father was for most of the time absent from home because of his job and the economic condition of the family was far below the average low-working class’s.

At the age of seven the twins were finally examined and found physically and mentally retarded. Numerous scars and bruises covered their bodies and the lack of nutrition and vitamins resulted in a major bone disease. They could not walk straight and their coordination was very poor.
After being hospitalised, the twins went to live with a loving and caring woman who took particular care of them. At the age of eleven they totally recovered. Their speech was normal for their age, they seemed to particularly enjoy school activities, learned to play a piano and achieved important goals.

There is no evidence though of the twins’ later lives to conclude that no major effects have taken place from early deprivation.

Bowlby’s first official statement of attachment entitled The Nature of the Child’s Tie to his Mother raised heavily criticism, particularly from notable exponents of the psychoanalytic society. Bowlby himself at the end of 1950s realised that his and others’ statements (such as Goldfarb’s, Katherine Wolf’s, Rene Spitz’s etc.) in terms of attachment, sometime tent to be exaggerate, even though he has always insisted on the importance of the mother-child bonding in early life for later development.

Nevertheless, other cases proved that some of the children severely deprived and without adequate bonding, recovered later in their life (e.g. Clarkes’ observation and Koluchova’s report).

Some other children, according to James and Joyce Robertson for instance, had shown no ill effect after suffering from temporary deprivation of their mother.

The research mentioned so far is from western cultures and it sees the mother as primarily caregiver and key figure in the attachment process. As well as Bowlby, many others have demonstrated that a large majority of the European and west countries’ babies with sensitive mothers are securely attached (type A). Within other cultures different patterns of bounding occur.
Relevant studies on different mothering roles come from Mary Ainsworth.

She conducted a research on some Ugandan mothers and children of the Ganda Tribe. As for many poorer communities, Ugandan children spend most of their time close to their mothers since the birth. Researches show that mothers are less likely to neglect their babies if a skin-to-skin relationship occurs. Separate these children from mothers causes anxiety and distress.
An alternative kind of mothering is found, for instance, in a small percentage of agricultural population in Israel, commonly called Kibbutzim. The main feature of this 4 per cent of the entire Israelite population is that they try to be self-sufficient and keep everyone fully employed. Therefore, in order to readily return to work, the mother spends a limited period of time with her baby (normally four to six weeks). Thus, this short direct contact time is characterised by an intense bonding behaviour. After the initial mother involvement, children’s houses look after babies while parents spend with them one or two intense hours each day. This system seems to work for two reasons. First because the short but highly qualitative contact between parents and children makes the latter feel wanted and secure. Second, because the surrogate childminding is appropriate.

Going back to Bowlby’s quotes, part of the reason for which children temporarily or permanently separated from their mothers suffered, could well be addressed in an inadequate alternative care.

Bowlby’s theories and studies have had an important impact in post-war society. They have contributed in modifying numerous aspects of children rearing and improving the quality and the flexibility of contacts between mother and child. However, it has also been criticised to be politically convenient. In the late 1940s and 1950s it would have suited the government if women had not gone out to work, leaving more space to men.
In conclusion, it is clear that some of Bowlby’s original ideas may not be completely correct. The flexibility of children often leads to overcome major difficulties occurred in early stage and the surrounding in which they are reared plays an important role in shaping them.

Furthermore, quoting the studies of Shaffer and Emerson (60 Glasgow Children, 1964) and Skeels (orphans reared by mentally retarded women, 1966) in terms of bond formation, babies are naturally inclined to form multiple attachments, thus the mother’s role is not as important as some people have believed. Childminding can be successfully shared among several people.

– ?Effect of maternal employment on the child? L.W.Hoffman (1074)
– ?Mothering? R.Shaffer (1977)
– ?Attachment And Loss?, vol. 1 and 2, John Bowlby (1969-1982)
– ?John Bowlby His Early Life?, Suzan Van Dijken (1987)
– Psychoanalytic Society Web-site,
– Bowlby’s Attachment Theory Web-site,


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