Attachments: Rutter Versus Bowlby

Rutter’s Challenge: Is Monotropy a Valuable Concept?

Most, if not all, A Level Psychology textbooks make reference to the challenge made by Michael Rutter regarding Bowlby’s concept of monotropy (the idea that infants need one bond that is stronger than all the rest) but they make this reference fairly superficially. I often find that students are aware that Rutter made a challenge but don’t really understand the grounds on which Rutter disagreed with part of what is arguably one of the most important and influential theories A Level Psychology students will come across.

Good Old Radio 4

radioBBC Radio 4’s science programmes are, in my opinion, exceptional. In June (3rd June 2014) an episode of The Life Scientific was aired which focused on the work of Michael Rutter. The interview with Rutter (still available to listen to at time of blogging) is a must listen for any A Level Psychology teacher, student or anyone interested in Developmental Psychology.

From the Horse’s Mouth

horseI love hearing about how researchers got into their field, what motivates them and what sort of people they are more generally. You don’t get this knowledge from the pages of a textbook and so taking the opportunity to hear learn first hand from the researcher, rather than simply reading a (possibly false) biography online, should not be missed. One of the things that particularly struck me was that Rutter is in his 80’s and is still working; he talks about how he still works with the individuals who were part of his study of Romanian orphans who were adopted. In a society where many people are driven by making as much money as possible then retiring as soon as possible, it is refreshing to hear someone value the meaningful nature of their work and for someone of his vast experience to hold great value too. This is something I would make explicit when discussing this interview with students as the potential benefit in the classroom goes much further than the content of the A Level specification.

In the Classroom

About 15 minutes in to the episode, Rutter refers to the differing approaches of the Tavistock Clinic in London (taking a Psychoanalytic approach), where Bowlby was working, and South London’s Institute of Psychiatry, where he was working. It could easily be assumed that Rutter and Bowlby were rivals or enemies but during the interview, Rutter speaks highly of Bowlby’s work. Rutter models the use of evaluative thinking, a vital part of being a Psychologist which can be used to help dispel the myth that this is an Assessment Objective that is purely the task of A Level students. This gives students the opportunity to see (or hear) that analytical thinking is a vital skill to master in order to be an effective learner, in or out of formal education, and is not something you do (or appear to be doing) at school then switch off when you think you are not assessed anymore.

I would either ask students to listen to the episode (or part), with some questions to focus them on particular aspects, for homework or play all or part of the episode in class. You might ask students to defend Rutter’s challenge using what they have learned and possibly counter criticise by thinking about how Bowlby might defend his position regarding monotropy. Rutter basically suggests that it doesn’t make sense to need one (usually maternal) bond more than any others because if that bond was broken the cost would be so high.

I’m not going to repeat the interview here; listen to the episode and hear Rutter make his case (he talks about the differing effects of deprivation and privation too). This audio resource puts the detail on a blurry textbook representation of what is arguably a key evaluative point of Bowlby’s  Attachment Theory. Rutter also talks about his study of Romanian orphans in a way makes criticising on knee jerk methodological grounds seem somewhat churlish. A great opportunity to stretch students thinking and avoid relying too heavily on weaknesses of research in evaluative writing.

Other scientific lives

Another useful episode of the Life Scientific for A Level Psychology is an interview with circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster.


Demystifying the Language of Bowlby (and other theories)

Vexing vocab = struggling students

Many theories in Psychology appear riddled with new and complex terminology for often very abstract concepts. This can be hard for many students to cope with, particularly if they have struggled to decode language throughout their education.

A prime example: Bowlby’s Theory

Bowlby’s Attachment Theory (AQA) is a good example of a theory with what seems like many brand new complex terms. Teaching students about Bowlby’s ideas without considering the origins of his terminology can leave students feeling that they are learning copious amounts of brand new language. They will struggle to apply this learning if they acquire it without full understanding.

I don’t think that there is much chance of A Level students retaining knowledge of Bowlby’s Theory, or theories like this, and using the terms in the appropriate context if they don’t consider why he chose the words he did to describe his concepts. Students can easily be under the impression that theorists simply make up words and terms to sound clever and make other people feel inadequate. A term that has no semantic associations in our memory is likely to be quickly forgotten.

Laying the foundations

foundationsWhen teaching Bowlby’s theory I start with an activity where I display a list of words associated with Bowlby’s proposals about how attachments develop. For example, the list includes: evolve, adaptive, innate, continuity, hypothesis, internal, model, mono, critical, sensitive and period. I ask students in small groups to identify words they are familiar with and those they are not. I also ask them to use the words in a sentence and to identify words with several meanings or uses. As a class we then unpick the words, considering what they mean and the ways they are used; this is to ensure students are all familiar with what will make up most of the key terms for the lesson.  I generally find that many are quite confident about doing this; however, there are always a significant number of students who are not at all confident with the use of many of these quite common words.

Reducing new learning, lightening the load and maximising memory

Understanding the meaning of the list of terms above makes Bowlby’s theory quite predictable and so much easier to understand and remember. I think that unpicking the origins of these words reduces the amount of genuinely brand new learning that students are exposed to. I have found retention of Bowlby’s theory to be much better since using this approach, in no small part because they had somewhere old to put their new learning (or however, you want to describe it or analogise) and the new learning didn’t actually feel so new.

Narrowing a gap

Students who were familiar with the terminology already are able to see why Bowlby chose to combine words and use terms such as continuity hypothesis, internal working model and critical period. The consequence of this is that they also understand it better now. Using literacy skills, such as being reminded that the prefix mono refers to one thing suddenly makes terms like monotropy make much more sense and in turn increases the chance it will be remembered.

The students who are learning theses terms for the first time in this lesson are also benefiting from this approach. These students have learnt these concepts twice, which in itself is a benefit, but they have also had the opportunity to fill in the blanks in their vocabulary and to have experienced the process of decoding language when it is not familiar. This is a vital skill for good literacy and making this skill explicit has a place in every lesson in every subject.

Beyond Bowlby

I think this type of starter is appropriate for many theories in Psychology and would work well to introduce the main approaches in Psychology too.

Attachment: Timely topical revision

A revision stimulus for AS Attachments (Unit 1)

A couple of days ago (at time of writing) @TimesEducation tweeted a post that would make a great stimulus for some broad revision of the AS (AQA spec A) topic of Attachment.

@TimesEducation: “End of the road for childhood” as nurseries open all hours”.

Is this the future of day care?

Is this the future of day care?

After Easter I plan to simply display this tweet and invite students to speculate about the content of arguments in the article it refers to. With access to the full article I could display it and ask students to annotate the piece with their knowledge; backing up or refuting the content and suggestions made in the piece will give ample opportunities to find, use and refile their learning. There’s lots of scope to consider bias in the way the article is written and whether research has been reflected accurately and in a way that shows that research is tentative not 100% conclusive (How Science Works). The link in the blog post only gives the opening paragraph (a subscription is required) but even this has enough to get a reflective discussion going.

Some ideas for the classroom

Here are a few suggestions of how this article might be best used in the AS Psychology classroom:

  1. The first line of the article suggests that longer hours for nurseries may “risk insitutionalising young children”; a bold claim with much scope for a two sided class or small group debate.
  2. Put students in pairs – where one is the journalist and one the “expert” – and ask the journalist to imagine the article has not been written yet and they want to interview an expert as research for writing the article. A fictional section of the article, drawing on research into attachments, disruption and day care could then be written by the pair collaboratively.
  3. Ask students to write a comment (in the style of those posted in response to news articles online) about the content of the article given their knowledge of research in this area.
  4. Students could give advice to nurseries planning to open for long hours about how best to avoid institutionalisation and promote attachment and social development.

It is important that students do not start to mix up institutional care and day care; a carefully managed discussion and consideration of how and why the article is using the term “institutionalisation” should help prevent this.

Can’t believe I’ve only just discovered Quick on the Draw!

A classic Teacher’s Toolkit activity

Reading techniques

Reading techniques

Quick on the draw is from, the now classic, (The) Teacher’s Toolkit (written by Paul Ginnis; Crown House Publishing, 2002).  It is basically an activity where students are given questions, one at a time, to answer from a piece of text. Once they have answered the first question they must bring it to be checked for accuracy before they are given the next question. This is best done as a group task where teams race to be the first to complete all the questions with the correct answers. It doesn’t actually involve any drawing, the name refers to the speed needed to be successful.

Better late than never

To celebrate her recent retirement from teaching my Mum bestowed to me her copy Ginnis’ educator’s bible and I glibly remarked that I was already very familiar with the publication (thank you) and shelved it with my much forgotten and dusty books about aromatherapy and how to make your own Christmas cards.  Over the summer, however, I dusted it off and trawled through it looking for some inspiration for September. I’m glad I did because this brought the activity described above to my attention.

In the Psychology classroom

In Psychology I often want students to use their textbook but asking them to simply read and comprehend the text can seem like a waste of lesson time. I originally thought this task would just be a “fun” way to quickly find and review textbook information, however, it proved to be so much more.

I was teaching A2 students about restoration accounts of the functions of sleep (AQA Spec A: Biological Rhythms and Sleep) and had already outlined the differing views of Oswald and Horne (with the help of a “flipped” video I made which students watched prior to the lesson) but the textbook included more depth into what specifically might be restored which students needed to consider in order to describe and analyse the theories. Asking them just to read this information (a whole textbook page) would have been unproductive and a teacher explanation would have been unnecessary. Instead I wrote 8 questions that required students to move around the whole page of text using skim reading techniques (literacy) and scanning. Once the students found the relevant material they then start reading for understanding in order to answer the question. I made sure the questions required short, specific answers for speed and to reduce ambiguity in judging the accuracy of their responses.

More than just a bit of fun

Once the students had all completed the activity we revisited the answers and the broad knowledge the students had gained was evident. The familiarity they had with the text meant they could be much more productive, and confident, in their use of the text for a task we did later drawing on this knowledge. The textbook page had become something accessible rather than the unending sea of off-putting words it had started out as. The students said they really enjoyed it (even a self confessed group-work-hater) and I have used it again since.

This activity is simple, easy to put together and works for any topic; highly recommended – thanks Teacher’s Toolkit!

Doceri: control your board and flip your classroom

The flipped classroom

I love the idea of what is often called the flipped classroom where students learn about content outside of lessons, freeing up precious class time for more applied, creative activities. In A Level Psychology a concept that can be accessed adequately through an audio or video presentation at home, frees up “live” class time for students to do something with this knowledge.

I have played around with a number of free tools for making screen casts (video tutorials) including Windows Movie Maker and Doodlecast (for the iPad) but I recently came across Doceri which has become my new favourite thing.

Doceri is basically an app that allows you to control what is on your computer screen or your interactive white-board display, from your iPad. This alone is impressive but the app also allows you to create pages of pictures/photos/slides and hand written/drawn content to which you can add an audio narration. I have used this tool to create video tutorials where I outline and explain the strengths and weaknesses of some of the approaches to explaining abnormality (AS Psychology, Unit 2; AQA A).

I plan to ask students to watch and listen to the screen casts for homework, following a lesson on the assumptions and key features of the approach. I’m then going to use lessons, in which I would have focussed on identifying strengths and weaknesses of the approaches, to complete a variety of activities including a group “broken pieces” style (see “Teachers Toolkit”, Paul Ginnis) activity, where students will work together to categorise critical points and draw conclusions about the value of the approach. Students will also be able to use the video resources for revision later too.

Sharing on You Tube

I have previously blogged about some video presentations I made as revision resources for my students on my rather embarrassingly titled You Tube channel (psychologyguru). I have uploaded my Doceri screen casts for the biological and behavioural approaches for anyone that is interested in taking a look (follow this link to the bio video and the behavioural video).

Using Doceri in the classroom

The in-class uses of the app are also many and varied. You could just use it to navigate and control your board from around the classroom, you could pass the iPad around the room to create a mind map or you could ask students to annotate an exam answer displaying their contributions on the board for the class to see and comment on.

All in all Doceri is a useful app to create content-focussed resources for skills-focussed teachers and a bit of tech definitely worth trying out in the classroom.

Update: Find the fake intro lesson examples

Some examples for your use

In a previous post I blogged about a different approach to the first introductory lesson of the course with AS Psychology students. The activity, Find the Fake, involves circulating round a number of summaries of pieces of research displayed on the walls in small groups. The students have to find the one piece of research that is actually a figment of my imagination.

I have had a few requests for examples of the research I used so I have finally relented and have posted some here. I’m sure there are lots more that would be good to use. I have also since the original post included some more examples that I didn’t use the first time but thought might be good.

Nim Chimpksy

There has been some debate concerning whether, as humans, we develop language because our brains are hardwired to do so or whether the use of language, with grammatical structure, is learned. In order to try to resolve this debate Psychologist Herbert Terrace carried out a study to find out whether a chimpanzee exposed to a human environment, could acquire language like a human. The chimp who was selected for the investigation was removed from his mother at 2 weeks of age and raised by a surrogate mother (a researcher) in a home environment.

The chimp was treated like a human and brought up alongside seven human siblings. He was taught sign language in order to communicate by rewarding him every time he used signs correctly to communicate. By the age of 4 years it was documented that the chimp had acquired a vocabulary of over 100 signs which had been used in 20,000 combinations in communication with the humans around him.

Project pigeon

American Psychologist B.F Skinner, is well known for his research into the effects of rewards and punishments on behaviour. He also attempted to develop a pigeon-guided missile during World War II.

At the front of the missile, a lens projected an image of the target to a screen inside. The pigeons had been trained to peck the target image and were placed inside the missile. As long as the pigeon kept pecking the centre of the screen, the missile would fly straight, but pecks off-centre would cause the screen to tilt, which would then, via a connection to the missile’s flight controls, cause the missile to change course.

The National Defense Research Committee contributed $25,000 to the research. The program was cancelled on October 8, 1944, because the military did not feel it was a high priority. Project Pigeon was revived by the Navy in 1948 as “Project Orcon”; it was later cancelled in 1953 when electronic guidance systems’ took over.

Obedient nurses

Hofling (1966) carried out a field experiment in a hospital setting. The study aimed to find out whether a group of nurses would obey an order from an authority figure (a doctor) even if this action was against the rules and meant they could lose their job. In the study, 22 nurses received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as “Dr Smith” (an investigator, pretending to be a doctor). Dr Smith asked each nurse (individually) to administer a dose of “10mg” of “Astroten” to a patient. This was not a real drug but a bottle had been made and labelled and placed in the drugs cupboard.

In the phone call the “Dr” said he would write up the paperwork to authorise the treatment later on but that the nurse should administer the drug straight away. The dosage was twice the recommended dose printed on the bottle, and the rules stated that an order over the telephone – and from a doctor who was not familiar to them – was not allowed. Despite numerous reasons to refuse, only 21 out of the 22 refused to carry out the order.

Gendered numbers

Wilkie and Bodenhausen did an experiment where they showed participants photos of babies and asked them to determine for each photo the likelihood that the baby was male. They found that when a baby photo was paired with the number 1, people were much more likely to think the baby was male.

In a separate study, the researchers had participants rate the masculinity and femininity of the numbers themselves. People readily rated the number 1, as well as other odd numbers, as being more masculine. They also rated the number 2, and other even numbers, as appearing more feminine. This last finding was replicated with a sample from India which suggests that this is consistent across different cultures.


Hazan and Shaver (1987) published a questionnaire in a newspaper asking people to write in and describe their experiences in romantic relationships and their relationship with their parents during early childhood. They did this by choosing statements that they felt best described these experiences. The researchers analysed the responses that were sent in to them.

Those responders who described their childhood relationships as positive and secure also expressed healthy views of adult romantic relationships. For example, they said they believed in true love, found it easy to trust others and were confident that they were a lovable person. People who described their early parental relationships negatively, however, were more sceptical of the existence of “true love” and tended to be mistrusting of others.

The fake

Radley (2006) carried out a study into the impact of the use of social networking sites on psychopathic tendencies. The researchers wanted to test whether communicating with people via Facebook, rather than face to face, might may be decreasing our ability to empathise with others (feel other people’s emotions) as there are less cues available (e.g. tone of voice, facial expression) to detect the emotional state of others online.

Psychopaths are unable to feel empathy, so spending lots of time using social networking sites might lead to an increase in psychopaths and potentially more serial killers in society as a result. A group of teenage volunteers, who regularly use Facebook, underwent brain scans whilst using Facebook for 30 minutes. The activity of the empathy centres of the brain were compared with a control group of teenagers who never, or rarely, use social networks whilst using Facebook for the same period of time.  The researchers found that those who used Facebook regularly showed less activity in their empathy brain centres than the control group. Radley concluded that Facebook might create a generation of Psychopaths and that further research was needed in this area to determine whether warnings should be placed on the site in the future.

Memory, depression and Psychiatry: Radio 4 comes up trumps again!

All in the Mind

I just listened to a recent episode of Radio 4’s excellent series All in The Mind (Wednesday 5th June 2013; “Memory and depression; Global mental health; Compassion training”). The memory and depression link signalled in the title first caught my eye but I was delighted that actually the whole 28 minute episode linked very nicely to A Level Psychology and could be of interest to AS and A2 student following the AQA A specification.

Could Method of Loci prevent a depressive episode?

method of LociThe first piece in the episode focusses on an interesting application of the Method of Loci memory technique (Unit 1: Memory – “strategies for memory improvement”) to helping people with depression recall happy memories, something that they usually find very difficult. The researcher (Dr Tim Dalgleish) concerned describes the memory technique very clearly and a research participant discusses the positive outcome of the study. It is suggested that the technique may provide a way to manage the cognitive bias that seems to exist in those with depression towards negative memories, by making happy memories easier to bring to mind and preventing the spiral of negative thoughts.  This research is published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

A2 students who are studying depression as their chosen disorder in Unit 4, Psychopathology, may also find this piece in the episode interesting in terms applying their learning about the Cognitive Approach to explaining depression.

Should Psychiatry be globally applied?

The second piece in this episode focusses on the idea that the access individuals with mental health problems have to support and intervention is severly limited in low and middle income countries. The piece features an interesting debate between Vikram Patel (Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Sangath Centre in Goa in India) who presents the argument that Psychiatric intervention is urgently needed and Professor Pat Bracken (Psychiatrist and Clinical Director of the Mental Health Service in West Cork in Ireland) who warns against the potential dangers of applying approaches developed in Western cultures globally.

I think this is worth listening to in order to give students an appreciation of the issues surrounding imposing the ideals from one culture onto another, which can be applied in many areas of the specification. The discussion also highlights the differing views regarding whether Psychiatry and medicalisation is the best approach to understanding mental health.

Compassion training

The final section of this episode focusses on Compassion Training and the idea that thinking about someone you are experiencing conflict with in a compassionate manner might help to increase altruism. Although not part of the specification in any way students tuning into this episode might consider applying this approach themselves as a possible way to increase their compassion and pro-social behaviour and/or critique the methodology of the research described and discussed by the researcher (Helen Weng; University of Wisconsin Madison).