Attachment - Institutional Care

The effect of institutional care was investigated by Hodges & Tizzard (1989) in a longitudinal study which followed the development of 65 children who had been in institutional care from before the age of 6 months. The care provided was of good quality, but carers were discouraged from forming attachments with the children (i.e. privation occurred).

  • To investigate the effect of institutional upbringing on later attachments.
  • To investigate the effects of privation on later social and emotional development.- To investigate if the effects of privation can be reversed.
By age 4, 24 children were adopted, 15 returned to their natural home (restored), and the rest stayed in institutions
They were also compared with a control group, who had spent all their lives in their own families. The control group was closely matched to the children in the experimental group. For example, in terms of sibling number, home location (London), parental occupation, position in family, age, sex etc.

The children were assessed for social and emotional competence at four, eight and sixteen years old. The assessment involved an interview with the children, their parents and their teachers along with a set of questionnaires.


At the age of four, none of the institutionalised children had developed attachments, but by eight years of age the adopted children had formed good attachments. Their social and intellectual development was also better than that of children returned to their own families.
Those returned to their natural families (restored) showed more behavioral problems and the attachments were weaker. However, all children who had spent their early years in institutions were more attention-seeking with adults and displayed some difficulties in their social relationships, especially with their peers.
Some of these children were interviewed again at 16 years of age (as were parents and care-workers). Hodges & Tizard found that the adopted children still had good attachments which compared favorably with the control group. Fewer restored children were had good attachments but the children who had been brought up in institutional care had experienced most instability and difficulties in their later attachments.


Bowlby appears to have been right when stressing the importance of early stages of development. However, the effects of delaying the formation of attachments do not necessarily last into adulthood as Bowlby suggested - they may not necessarily lead to 'affection-less psychopathy', Loving relationships and high quality care are apparently crucial to reverse privation effects.