The learning theory was developed by Dollard and miller and was a theory that suggests that attachment is a learned behaviour that is acquired through classical conditioning and operant conditioning.
Classical conditioning is the idea that attachment is learned through pleasure.
For example, food is the unconditioned stimulus and pleasure is the unconditioned response, therefore when the primary caregiver consistently provides the food to the infant. The infant gains pleasure when the primary caregiver is present. This now means that the primary caregiver is the conditioned stimulus and pleasure is now the conditioned response.
Operant conditioning is the idea that attachment is learned through negative reinforcement.
For example, if a baby is hungry it will cry because it is distressed. Therefore by feeding the baby it will make it feel more comfortable and this means that crying is learned through negative reinforcement.
Over a long period of time (up to 2 years) the desire of being made comfortable by being fed becomes associated with the primary caregiver. This means the baby has now learned to cry to get the primary caregiver’s attention, and it feels pleasure when the primary caregiver is present. Attachment has now been learned.
A negative to the learning theory would be the Schaffer & Emerson test. This was a study attachment among 60 different infants. They found that 39% of babies that had developed the first attachments were not because the primary caregiver was feeding them, but because they were paying a substantial amount quality time with the infant. The primary attachment was often with the father and not the mother. Schaffer & Emerson found that it was the quality of interaction given to the infant that was most significant. The person who was most sensitive and responsive to the infant's needs usually created the stronger attachment with that infant.
The strengths to learning theory are that there is a lot of evidence that animals learn through classical and operant conditioning. Pavlov conducted a test on his dogs and managed to demonstrate learning through classical conditioning.
Through this theory, psychologists still continue to demonstrate that all animals learn through classical and operant