Maternal Deprivation Theory



Bowlby argues that there is a link between maternal deprivation and criminality and deviance. He believed a child needs a good link with the primary caregiver until the age of five. 

If the attachment is broken, it can leave the child unable to create meaningful relationships. Bowlby described this as 'affectionless psycopathy'.

This was based on the 44 juvinile thieves study in 1944. 39% of the 44 had suffered from deprivation before the age of five compared with only 5% in a control group.

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Case Study

Aileen Wuornos

Serial killer Aileen Wuornos had a very abusive childhood, her mother Diane was aged just fifteen when she gave birth and abandoned her when Aileen was just four.

Aileen turned to prostitution to support herself, during which time she shot and killed seven men, claiming they had all attempted to assault her. She was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

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- Research showed his theory to be true 39% of a sample were criminal with mummy issues.

- His work shows the importance of investigating child-parent relationships.


- The study was retroactive, parents and children had to recall events rather than have them observed.

- Accounts for 39% of the sample but not the other 61% of the sample.

- Bowlby's one study, later, on sixty participants of which had been separated from parents found no 'affectionless psycopathy'.

- Overestimates how far early childhood experiences impact behaviour.

- Sammons and Putwain (2018) note that the idea of a link between maternal dep. and criminality is no longer widely accepted.

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