Ainsworth's Strange Situation
Ainsworth was interested in the different types of attachment between babies and their caregivers, and she developed a structured observation known as the 'Strange Situation' to do this.
In the 'Strange Situation' babies ages around one yr old and their mothers were observed in a range of situations, which allowed the researcher to assess the responses shown by infants to separation from their mother and their reunion with her.
1) Strange Situation comprised eight episodes. Each of these lasted for about 3 minutes, except episode one which lasted for 30 seconds.
2) Every aspect of participants' behaviour was observed and videotaped, with most attention given to reunion behaviours, the infants' responses to their mothers' return. Data was combined from several studies and in total 106 infants were observed.
3) The testing room was an unfamiliar environment (Strange Situation)
4) Five categories were recorded:
- proximity and contact-seeking behaviours
- contact maintaining behaviours
- proximity and interaction-avioding behaviours
- contact and interaction-resisting behaviours
- search behaviours
5) Every 15 seconds, the category of behaviour displayed was recorded and scored on an intensity scale of 1 to 7
1) Generally infants explored the playroom and toys more enthusiastically when just the mother was present than either a) after the stranger entered or b) when the mother was absent
2) Reunion behaviours reflected three types of attachment:
Type A: Insecure-avoidant
15% of infants ignored their mother and were indifferent to her presence. Level of play was not affected by the mother's presence or absence. Infants displayed little stress when she left and ignored or avoided her when she returned. Infants reacted to the mother and stranger in similar ways, showing most distress when left on their own.
Type B: Securely attached
70% of infants played contentedly when their mother was present, whether or not a stranger was present. But were distressed when the mother left. On her return, they sought comfort from her, calmed down and re-started to play. Mother and stranger were treated very differently.
Type C: Insecure-resistant
15% of infants were fussy and wary, even with their mother present. They were distressed by her leaving and sought contact with her on her return, but simultaneously showed anger and resisted contact after contact had been given.
Strange situation shows very good inter-rater reliability
Different observers watching the same children generally agree on the attachment type.
Bick et al. (2012) found 94% agreement in one team.
This may be because the Strange Situation takes place under controlled condidtions and because the behavioural categories are easy to observe.
Therefore, we can be confident that the atatchment type of an infant idenetified in the strange situation does not just depend on who is observing them.
The strange situation may be a culture-bound test
The test might not have the same meaning in countries outside Western Europe and the USA.
Cultural differences in children's experiences mean they respond differently.
In addition, caregivers from different cultured behave differently.
Takahasi (1990) notes that Japanese mothers are rarely separated from infants, thus the infants show high levels of separation anxiety.
Tenperament may be a confounding variable
Ainsworth assumed that the main influence on separation and stranger anxiety was the quality of attachment.
However, Kagan (1982) suggests that temperament (the child's genetically influenced personality) is a more important influence on behaviour in the Strange Situation.
This challenges the validity of the strange situation because its intention is to measure the quality of attachment, not the temperament of the child.
There may be other types of attachment
Ainsworth identified three attachment types: insecure-avoidant (A), secure (B), and insecure-resistant (C).
Main and Solomon (1986) pointed out that some children display atypical attachments that do not fit types A, B or C.
This challenges Ainsworth's initial notion of attachment types and could question whether the strange situation is a useful method to identify these types.