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Lecture 9

PSYC23H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Attachment Theory, Thumb Sucking, John Bowlby

Course Code
David Haley

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Review last week
Maternal brain circuits
Hidden regulators & fail-safe-systems
Any mother in storm (inhibition of
Global vs. multiple regulators
Dyadic regulators
Self- vs. other regulator
Dyadic regulators
Contingency detection
Parent responsiveness
Infant emotion specific physiology
Heart rate vs. cortisol in relation to
specific emotions
Cultural differences
Proximity seeking
Infant crying
Apply to how kids learn to
do this
Everyone gets upset after separation but it’s
important how they learn to cope with the
There were too many moments where they
were afraid of their caregiver
Disorganized attachment
Maternal brain circuit
1. Structural changes
2. Functional changes
3. Mechanisms:
a. Hormones
b. Experience
Increased cognitive capacities
Decreased stress reactivity and more!
More synchrony = more activity in the
nucleus accumbens
Decisions in rat moms: periaqueductal gray
Parenting researchers postulate that PAG is
involved in deciding whether to care or
forage for food
High density of
oxytocin/vasopressin receptors in
Orbitofrontal cortex and the
prefrontal cortex
Generally, defensive, avoidance
Integration of emotional
Has to be carefully regulated to
provide caregiving
Reward and parenting
Approach motivation is increased via the
nucleus accumbens-ventral pallidum circuit
Avoidance motivation is reduced by
interrupting threat signals transmitted from
the amygdala to the periaqueductal grey
Female virgin rat has the choice to avoid or
take care of rats
Approach behaviour occurs if you
interrupt threat signals to the PAG
from the amygdala

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Why do we sometimes become emotionally attached
to the “wrong” people?
The behaviorists believed that if you reward
a person for a particular behavior, he or she
will be more likely to repeat that
behaviour—and if you do not reward the
person for the behavior, or if you punish it,
he or she will be less likely to repeat it.
Doesn’t always work this way.
Harry Harlow, for example, studied infant
monkeys raised with a surrogate "mother"
made of chicken wire, cloth, and plastic. In
one of Harlow's studies, researchers blasted
air from the surrogate mother's torso as an
infant held on. The monkeys didn't let go;
they held on harder.
It’s very hard to stay away from your
caregiver, especially later in life
Fear learning says if the floor electrocuted
you, after a few trials, you’re not gonna go in
the room anymore
you learn that lesson
in contrast, with harlow’s monkeys,
even tho the surrogate monkey (it's
not just the fact that it’s the mother),
she was also unpleasant – she
would blow cold pops of air and you
should learn to avoid, but because
of attachment, the monkeys held
onto her even more
Something keeps you emotionally attached
to your parents no matter how much they
may mistreat you
“Any mother in a storm”
Evolution appears to favor attachment by the
infant, regardless of the quality of care. If a
newborn infant fails to form an attachment to
its caregiver, even an abusive one, its
chances of survival diminish.
Sullivan et al investigated whether learned
avoidance behaviour differed in younger and
older rat pups
Roughly, one rat month =
3 human years.
Attachment in infant rats depends in large
part on the olfactory system. Infant rats learn
odor cues that allow them to orient
themselves to the mother and the litter and
to attach to the mother's nipples.
Need to have a system that’s operational
even with abusive parents
You’re unable to learn to avoid something
fearful in some situations
These young rat pups don’t secrete stress
hormones in response to these painful
don’t consolidate the memory
convenient for having an
attachment system where you won’t
avoid an abusive caregiver
Good memories of bad events in infancy (Sullivan et
al., Nature, 407, 38-39, 2000)
Postnatal day 10, older rat pups secrete
CORT/release dopamine→ activate
amygdala→ avoid odor
Before postnatal day 10, younger rat pups
didn’t secrete CORT/release dopamine-->
didn’t activate amygdala→ approach odor
Although younger rat pups show
the same behavioral response as
older rat pups (fearful response)
--> they show no CORT release
The hypo-stress responsive period
(P1 to P10 in rat pups)
Sullivan et al subjected neonatal rats to a
fear-conditioning paradigm that involved
odor–shock pairings. They envisioned this
aversive conditioning paradigm as a model
for early attachment to an abusive caregiver.
They found that very young rat pups
exposed to odors associated with electric
shocks were attracted to that odor--i.e., they
learned an approach response to that odor.
In contrast, older pups learned odor

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Why and what exactly is causing this
approach rather than avoid response?
If the younger rat pups were
injected with cortisol or dopamine
then they would show amygdala
activation, and then they would
learn to avoid rather than be
attracted to the odor.
However, if they were injected with
cortisol but given a dopamine
blocker....then they wouldn’t
activate the amygdala and so
continue to be attracted to the odor.
Interestingly, if older rat pups had
their adrenals removed so they
couldn’t secrete cortisol in response
to the shock then they would also
be attracted and not avoid the odor.
More importantly, the presence of
the mother had a profound effect on
whether the older rat pups would
secrete cortisol. If the mother was
present then they wouldn’t secrete
cortisol and so not activate the
amygdala and so learned to
approach the odor but as soon as
they were exposed to cortisol then
the amygdala was activated and
they learned to avoid the odor.
This is consistent with the idea that
the amygdala is the location of
many stress hormone receptors.
IN the BARr et al study, it was
shown that GC induced changes in
the amygdala caused upregulation
of dopamine
Barr et al. write, “attachment [by
such an infant] to the caretaker has
evolved to ensure that the infant
forms a bond to that caregiver
regardless of the quality of care
Stockholm Syndrome
"Stockholm syndrome” describes a
phenomenon in which kidnapping victims
and other victims of abuse develop positive
emotional bonds with their captors.
This bond presumably develops as a
defense mechanism in the victim. The victim
sympathizes with his or her abuser or captor,
limiting antagonistic interactions and
supporting survival in a stressful, high-risk
While there is little scientific research on this
subject, and Stockholm syndrome is not an
established psychiatric diagnosis, the
syndrome has been described frequently in
the news.
The syndrome is named for a Swedish bank
robbery in which robbers held bank
employees hostage for six days in 1973. The
victims defended the robbers after they were
freed and appeared to have become
emotionally attached to them..
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