John Bowlby

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. 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 behaviors.

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. ...

Order now

Related essays