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Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 4 months ago

Extension Reading


Short term effects of separation


Bowlby was mainly interested in the long-term effects of deprivation, such as affectionless psychopathy. However he also investigated short-term effects. By this we are referring to the effects of deprivation lasting over weeks or months, rather than years. Often these will be seen as a consequence of short-term separations (such as a brief period of hospitalisation) and this was exactly the scenario investigated by Robertson & Robertson (1969).

Robertson and Bowlby (1952) proposed a model of the short-term effects of separation involving three stages: protest, despair and detachment (the so-called PDD model).


Robertson & Robertson (1971) conducted a study on a number of cases involving separation from the mother. They attempted to minimise the consequences of distress by preparing children for the separation. The child made visits to the Robertson’s home beforehand and during the separation the child was talked to about his/her mother regularly. These cases, cared for in the Robertson’s own home, were compared with the case of John who was taken into more conventional residential care for nine days.


The findings of the research were that the children cared for by the Robertsons coped well with the separation. However John, initially an outgoing and cheerful child, showed severe distress and later, despair and detachment, that continued after he returned home to his mother.


This study is important because it has played a significant part in changing attitudes to how people deal with separation. Hospitals are now very reluctant to allow even brief periods of separation. If these are unavoidable, then they are carefully prepared and organised, as carried out by the Robertsons.


However, it is a case study and therefore suffers from the general limitations of such studies. We are not sure the extent to which John’s behaviour is typical and there are many uncontrolled variables, including his mother’s behaviour when he returned home. Was she affected by the hospitalisation?


Not everyone is convinced by the PDD model. For example, Barrett (1997) looked again at the behaviour shown by John and other children recorded on film by the Robertsons and suggested that it is better described in terms of the children attempting to cope with separation rather than protesting. It has also been suggested that securely attached children will show less distress on separation than insecurely attached.


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