Deprivation Privation and Separation

Maybe, when you were younger, you got lost from your parents; this probably caused you to be distressed. Maybe, you cried, screamed, shouted or ran around looking for them. When an attachment has been formed, a child will be affected by the absence of their caregiver. But how and to what degree does this separation impact the child? What if an attachment was never formed in the first place? We will answer these questions by discussing the differences between deprivation, privation, and separation. 

Deprivation Privation and Separation Deprivation Privation and Separation

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Contents
Table of contents
    • First, we’ll understand the definition of deprivation of attachment in psychology.
    • What is the difference between separation and deprivation?
    • As we continue, we’ll dive deeper into the meaning of separation in psychology.
    • We’ll form a better idea of the effects of maternal deprivation.
    • Finally, let’s look at Bowlby’s attachment theory on maternal deprivation.

    Deprivation of Attachment Definition Psychology

    In caregiver and child relationships, attachment is a two-way emotional bond strengthened through reciprocal interactions. A disruption to attachment is when a child-caregiver attachment is broken, either temporarily or permanently.

    Attachment is an emotional bond felt towards another person that provides security and closeness.

    A disruption to attachment can damage a child’s emotional and behavioural development. However, the effects on the child can vary depending on the nature of the disruption to the attachment.

    Generally, the more severe the disruption, the more damage it can cause to the child.

    In severe cases of deprivation, the bond may be destroyed altogether; this can cause permanent or long-term social and emotional damage to the child.

    Deprivation is when a child’s attachment to its mother or other caregiver is significantly broken due to no or poor quality care being given to the child.

    It is a period long enough for the bond between the child and caregiver to be seriously damaged.

    A child’s mother (the primary caregiver) falls ill and has to be hospitalised for a minimum of six months; this may cause the child to suffer from deprivation due to the loss of care.

    The attachment between the child and their mother may be seriously damaged or even broken. But, this depends on the length of time the child is deprived of care.

    Deprivation Privation and Separation Mother hugging daughter StudySmarterFig. 1 - Mother and Daughter. Deprivation, privation, and separation can affect the mother-daughter attachment.

    Difference Between Separation and Deprivation

    It’s important to understand the difference between separation and deprivation.

    Separation is when the caregiver is temporarily absent from the child for a short time.

    Separation is unlike deprivation because the caregiver’s absence occurs long enough for the attachment to be severely damaged or broken completely.

    Unless separation occurs regularly, it is unlikely that the child will suffer from social and emotional damage, and the attachment can still be repaired.

    A child is left with their grandparents for a week whilst their parents attend a wedding in another city. In this case, the child is unlikely to suffer from permanent or long-term damage unless they are frequently separated from their parents.

    Difference Between Deprivation and Privation

    What about the difference between deprivation and privation? Deprivation occurs when an attachment that’s already been formed has been broken, but what about if the attachment never formed at all?

    Privation is the complete absence of something desired or needed.

    Several researchers have researched the effects of privation and found that they may be both reversible and irreversible.

    Irreversible Privation

    Take Curtiss (1977) and the study of Genie, for example. In 1970, a girl named Genie (an alias) was found at 13 in Los Angeles, USA, by welfare officers who discovered that she had been abused her whole life. She had been tied to a potty chair in a small, silent room, and a straitjacket restricted her movement since she was a toddler.

    Her physical condition resembled that of a 6- or 7-year-old as she was underweight. She could not fully extend her limbs or focus her eyes, and she had nearly double the number of teeth. She could not control her bowel movements as she was never potty trained and continued wearing ‘nappies’ at 13. She was stated to be a feral (wild) child.

    After she was found, she showed signs of progress as she learned to play, dress and draw sketches of what she wanted. She learned to speak a few words. However, she could not form full sentences or grasp grammar.

    Curtis, who documented Genie’s progress, said that she was past the crucial age of learning to form sentences, which is between the ages of five and ten.

    Genie’s is an extreme case of privation and suggests that children facing severe abuse, neglect or social isolation may have permanent and severe developmental damage.

    Reversible Privation

    In cases such as Genie’s, the effects of privation are likely irreversible. However, other researchers have found that, in some cases, privation could be reversed.

    Koluchova (1976) studied a pair of identical twin boys from Czechoslovakia who experienced similar mistreatment as Genie. However, after these boys were adopted and cared for well by two sisters, the detrimental effects of privation were reversed, and they grew into healthy adults with a job and relationships.

    Another study showing the reversibility and irreversibility of privation was Rutter (1998). It was found that children adopted under the age of 6 months had a better chance of reversing the physical, psychological, and cognitive effects of privation than children over the age of 6 months.

    Separation: Psychology

    Robertson and Bowlby suggested that the effects of short-term separation may be the same as the effects of deprivation despite the difference in the scenarios. They found that short-term separation can result in long-lasting emotional damage. They suggested that children follow the protest-despair-detachment (PDD) model.

    The study aimed to investigate the effects of short-term separation on children. Robertson and Bowlby observed children aged 1-4 years old in residential nurseries and filmed their responses when separated for a short period from their primary caregivers.

    The experiment was conducted in a naturalistic environment.

    They found that children went through the following three stages when separated from their caregivers.

    Stages of SeparationDescription
    Stage One: Protest

    Immediate reactions involved crying, kicking, screaming, and attempting to stop the caregiver from leaving. Some rejected comfort and attention from other caregivers (such as the nursery staff), whilst others clung to it.

    Depending on the separation length, this stage lasted for a few hours or a few weeks.

    Stage Two: Despair

    Children displayed signs of acceptance of the situation or helplessness. They appeared to be in mourning. They comforted themselves through thumb-sucking or rocking and withdrew interest in their surroundings or other people.

    Individual attachment styles were assessed using the Strange Situation classifications, which showed how much despair the child experienced.

    Stage Three: Detachment

    Children began engaging with others and appeared sociable. When the caregivers returned, the children showed indifference or anger at the caregiver for leaving. This suggests children may have been masking their feelings with outward sociability.

    The Strange Situation procedure was an experiment conducted by Mary Ainsworth in 1978. She found three main attachment styles in children; secure, insecure-avoidant, and insecure-resistant.

    Bowlby noticed that the effects of the short-term separation lasted for several months after the separation ended and even resulted in separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is the fear of being separated from the caregiver in the future.

    He also stated that children between seven months and three years were the most susceptible to experiencing long-lasting effects of separation.

    Short-term separations can have long-lasting negative effects similar to those of deprivation. According to Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis, this can cause long-term social and emotional damage to the child.

    Short-term separation doesn’t always lead to social and emotional problems. Research by Clarke and Clarke (1976) shows that children subject to severe deprivation could recover.

    Maternal Deprivation

    Before John Bowlby proposed his attachment theory, he discussed maternal deprivation’s effects on children’s long-term development. His maternal deprivation hypothesis states that if the attachment bond between mother and child is significantly disrupted (maternal deprivation), the child may suffer from the following:

    Bowlby believed the effects of maternal deprivation on social, emotional and intellectual development were long-lasting. He also stated that children who suffered detrimental effects from maternal deprivation are more likely to commit offences and develop affectionless psychopathy.

    Affectionless psychopathy is the inability on the part of an individual to experience guilt for their actions or empathy for others.

    This can cause a higher likelihood of committing crimes and can hinder the formation of healthy relationships with others.

    Bowlby suggested continuous care from a mother, or another primary caregiver was essential to avoid any damage caused by disruption to the attachment.

    Bowlby’s Attachment Theory: Maternal deprivation

    Let’s look deeper at Bowlby’s attachment theory on maternal deprivation and how he first discovered it in his research. Bowlby aimed to test the maternal deprivation hypothesis by investigating the link between maternal deprivation and criminal behaviour.

    Forty-four teenagers were accused of stealing, and the teenagers’ families were interviewed.

    Through the interviews, Bowlby established whether the teenagers had been separated from their mothers during childhood. Bowlby also tested the teenagers for affectionless psychopathy.

    A control group was set up with 44 non-criminal but emotionally damaged teenagers. They were interviewed using the same procedure as in the main group. The two groups were compared to see if there was any correlation between maternal deprivation and emotional development.

    Results of Bowlby’s Study

    Bowlby’s findings were as follows:

    • Of the 44 teenagers in the main group (accused of stealing), 14 could be described as affectionless psychopaths.

    • Of the 14 affectionless psychopaths, 12 had experienced maternal deprivation in the first two years of their lives.

    • None of the 44 in the control group (not accused of stealing) had characteristics of affectionless psychopaths. Only two of the 44 in the control group were maternally deprived.

    Deprivation Privation and Separation Bowlby study 44 thieves findings StudySmarter

    Fig. 2 - Diagram of Bowlby’s Findings. Bowlby’s study of 44 thieves showed the possible effects of deprivation.

    Bowlby concluded that early maternal deprivation caused affectionless psychopathy, leading to crime. The conclusion supports the maternal deprivation hypothesis, showing that deprivation can cause long-term and serious damage to social and emotional development.

    The findings of the 44 thieves study may have been influenced by experimenter bias as it was Bowlby himself interviewing the teenagers. He may have been interested in proving his maternal deprivation hypothesis correct, possibly affecting the validity of his findings.

    Criticism of Bowlby’s Attachment Theory

    Many researchers thought Bowlby made some important observations in his studies; however, some criticised Bowlby for potentially confusing privation for deprivation.

    Deprivation Privation and Separation - Key takeaways

    • Deprivation, or disruption to attachment, can damage a child’s emotional and behavioural development.

    • Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis and study of the 44 thieves suggest that deprivation can cause long-term and serious damage to social and emotional development.

    • The study of Genie suggests that the effects of privation are irreversible. However, the study of the Czech twins suggests that it is possible to recover fully from privation.

    • Robertson and Bowlby (1952) suggested that the effects of short-term separation may be the same as the effects of deprivation. They developed the protest-despair-detachment (PDD) model.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Deprivation Privation and Separation

    What is maternal deprivation and attachment theory?

    The maternal deprivation and attachment theory states that if the attachment bond between mother and child is significantly disrupted (maternal deprivation), the child may suffer from the following:



    What is deprivation and privation?

    Deprivation is where a child's attachment to their mother or other caregiver has been significantly broken due to no care given to the child during that time. Privation is when a child has never formed a bond or attachment with their mother or caregiver. 

    What is an example of deprivation theory?

    A child’s mother (the primary caregiver) falls ill and has to be hospitalised for a minimum of six months. This may cause the child to suffer from deprivation due to the loss of care during this time.

    What is separation in psychology?

    Separation in psychology is where the caregiver is temporarily absent from the child for a short period.

    What is John Bowlby's theory of attachment?

    John Bowlby's theory of attachment states that the effects of maternal deprivation on social, emotional and intellectual development were long-lasting. He also proposed that children who suffer from maternal deprivation are more likely to commit offences and develop affectionless psychopathy. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When was the maternal deprivation theory proposed?

    Who proposed the maternal deprivation theory?

    What are the three levels of distress in the PDD Model?

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