The Attachment Metaphor and the Conditioning of Infant Separation Protests
Jacob L. Gewirtz
The "attachment" metaphor has labeled a process, of which infant protests to maternal separations have served as an index in the literature. Yet the potential reinforcing role of maternal behaviors (e.g., her departure delay, vacillation or return, reasoning with and/or reassuring the child) when contingent on cued infant protests (cries, fusses, whimpers, and/or whines) has been overlooked in attachment theory and research. The thesis of the investigation reported here is that, by their contingent responding, mothers (and others) may shape and condition their infant's protests in the very departure or separation settings in which those responses are found. Within the frame of the social-conditioning paradigm, how such infant protests come under the control of cues and contingencies provided by routine maternal behaviors was examined during her departures and, separately, during the ensuing brief separations. Nine 6- to 9-mo. infants were subjected to a repeated-measures design, in successive daily sessions. Two treatments were implemented: 1) DRO--differential reinforcement of behaviors other than protests, in which cued infant protests were never followed by contingent maternal responses; and 2) CRF--continuous reinforcement, in which cued infant protests were always followed by contingent maternal responses. The cued-protest rates of all infant Ss, both in departures and brief separations, increased from the noncontingent-first (DRO1) to the contingent-second (CRF2) treatment and decreased from the contingent-second (CRF2) to the noncontingent-third (DRO3) treatment. The reliable result-pattern differences in cued infant responses support the assumption that protests can be conditioned in everyday settings, trained (inadvertently) by the social contingencies provided by caregiver behaviors in the very departure and separation contexts in which the infant protests are found. The relation of cued infant protests to the infant's attachment to mother is considered throughout.
During the early months of life, infant protests during maternal/caregiver depar-