Mary Ainsworth and the Strange Situation

Mary Dinsmore Salter Ainsworth (1919-1999) was bom in Glendale, Ohio, the daughter of the president of an aluminum goods business. She received her BA, MA, and PhD, all from the University of Toronto, where she also served as instructor and lecturer. During her long career, she taught and conducted research at several universities and institutes in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Uganda.

Influenced by Bowlby's theory, Ainsworth and her associates (Ainsworth, Ble-har, Waters, & Wall, 1978) developed a technique for measuring the type of attach-

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ment style that exists between caregiver and infant, known as the Strange Situation. This procedure consists of a 20-minute laboratory session in which a mother and infant are initially alone hi a playroom. Then a stranger comes into the room, and after a few minutes the stranger beghis a brief interaction with the infant. The mother then goes away for two separate 2-mhiute periods. Dining the first period, the infant is left alone with the stranger; during the second period, the infant is left completely alone. The critical behavior is how the infant reacts when the mother returns; this behavior is the basis of the attachment style rating. Ainsworth and her associates found tlnee attachment style rathigs: secure, anxious-resistant, and avoidant.

In a secure attachment, when then mother returns, infants are happy and enthusiastic and initiate contact; for example, they will go over to then mother and want to be held. All securely attached infants are confident in the accessibility and responsiveness of their caregiver, and this security and dependability provides the foundation for play and exploration.

In an anxious-resistant attachment style, infants are ambivalent. When then mother leaves the room, they become unusually upset, and when then mother returns they seek contact with her but reject attempts at behig soothed. With the anxious-resistant attachment style, infants give very conflicted messages. On the one hand, they seek contact with their mother, while on the other hand, they squirm to be put down and may tlnow away toys that their mother has offered them.

The third attachment style is anxious-avoidant. With this style, infants stay calm when their mother leaves; they accept the stranger, and when their mother returns, they ignore and avoid her. In both kinds of insecure attachment (anxious-resistant and anxious-avoidant), infants lack the ability to engage in effective play and exploration.

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