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  • Created on: 27-03-16 09:19

Attachments in Infancy - The Strange Situation

Definition - An emotional bond between a caregiver and an infant, which is reciprocal and long-lasting.

Aim: To see if caregiver sensitivity affects the type and quality of attachment.

Procedure: 100 child-mother pairs were assessed from Baltimore in America. The research was split into two parts:

  • Part A). Natural Observatiosn: During the first year of the infants lives. Ainsworth visited every 3-4 months and she stayed for 3-4 hours each time. She just observed and focused on caregiver sensitivity.
  • Part B). Controlled Observations: Then, when the babies reached 1 year old, she invited them into the lab and they became involved in the 'strange situation'. She focused on how the child reacted.
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The Strange Situation (2)

The point of the SS was to test 4 behaviours which tell us a lot about the quality of an infant's attachment:

  • Separation Anxiety
  • stranger Anxiety
  • Reunion Behaviour
  • Willingness to Explore

Eight 3-minute episodes in the SS:

1. Parent and infant introduced to room

2. Caregiver sits and watches child play - Willingness to Explore

3. Stranger enters, talks to caregiver, then interacts with infant. Caregiver leaves - Separation Anxiety

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The Strange Situation (3)

4. First separation: Stranger tries to interact with infant - Stranger Anxiety

5. First reunion: Caregiver comforts child, stranger leaves. Caregiver then leaves. - Reunion Behaviour

6. Second separation: Child alone - Separation Anxiety

7. Stranger enters and tries to interact with infant - Stranger Anxiety

8. Second Reunion: Caregiver comforts infant, stranger leaves - Reunion Behaviour

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The Strange Situation (4)

Findings:They found that infants could be classified as one of 3 attachment types:

SECURE - 70% pairs:

  • Evidence of SA - do get upset when separated.
  • Happy to explore the environment - trust the caregiver to be a safe place.
  • There is some St A
  • On reunion, they actively seek contact and comfort.


  • Doesn't appear distressed when separated.
  • Happy to explore environment - they don't expect caregiver to be there (used to lack of cg)
  • No St A
  • Little or no reunion - they do not seek contact/do not initiate reaction.
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The Strange Situation (5)


  • Not willing to explore - doesn't trust caregiver, very clingy
  • Reunion behaviour is confused - distressed and cannot find comfort. May appear angry.
  • Extreme separation and stranger anxiety.

Conclusion: Caregiver sensitivity will have a profound effect on attachment type, which will be an endearing feature of an infant's personality as they grow up.

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Evaluation of the Strange Situation (1)


  • Protection from Harm: Deliberately designed to cause the infant some stress. Insecure resistant children become particularly distressed.
  • Fully Informed Consent: If the child could consent, they probably wouldn't. There is consent from the parents, but as the child isn't old enough to understand the SS, this raises an ethical dilemma.


  • Internal validity: If the caregiver isn't behaving 'normally', then the child may become bewildered or confused. The parents always knew that they were being observed, meaning they try 'extra hard' to look like a good parent (socially desriable behaviour) - Demand characteristics 
  • Reliability: Other research (Main & Solomon) suggest that there are 4 attachment types (the 4th being 'insecure disorganised') meaning that Ainsworth's results are not consistent.
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Evaluation of the Strange Situation (2)

  • Internal Validity: Ainsworth was inaccurate with her conclusion. Waters et al found that 28% people changed their attachment. She wasn't testing what she thought she was testing.
  • External Validity: Our attachment types may be considered ethnocentric or culturally relative. For example, German children are brought up to be independent, brave and happy to explore by themselves., which would show them as 'insecure avoidant' according to the SS.

It is criticised for being socially sensitive - parents are blamed, and those with a difficult to start are "stuck" with their attachment, which isn't necessarily true. However, Ainsworth's work is considered to be ground-breaking because it teaches us about parenting and how we can respond to our child's emotional needs. 

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Research into cross-cultural variations (1)

Van Ijzendooril & Kroonenberg

AIM - To see if results of the strange situation test in different cultures show any patterns of differences (both between and within cultures.

PROCEDURE - A meta-analysis of 32 published pieces of research, each one using the strange situation. Research came from 8 different countries, including USA, UK, West Germany, Israel and Japan.

FINDINGS - In all countries, secure was the most common attachment type. The highest % of secure attachments was found in the UK and the lowest in China (although secure was still the most common). The highest % of insecure avoidant attachments was in West germany, and the highest % of insecure resistant attachments was in Israel and Japan. Variations within cultures was 1.5 times greater than any variation between cultures.

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Research into cross-cultural variations (2)

CONCLUSION - We are more similar than we are different to other cultures (we have more in common than perhaps we think), with the overwhelming majority of people across the world enjoying secure attachments. However, some cultural norms affect how children behave in the Strange Situation. For example, German families value independence and this can make their children appear avoidant in the Strange Situation. In cultures where children are rarely left with others (Japan) their infants can appear resist in the Strange Situation, as can infants from cultures where exposure to strangers is rare (Israel).

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Evaluation of research into cross-cultural variati

  • Each of the studies used in the meta-analysis involved different procedures, with large variations in sample size and age of infants. The meta-analysis could not control any of these variables, meaning that the research lacks internal validity because it may be considered an unfair test.
  • The SS was devised in the US and may be culturally relative. For example, children who are not used to separation (Japan) often appeared insecure resistant, and children who are independent and do not cry on separation (Germany) often appeared insecure avoidant. This may mean that the SS is not a valid way of measuring the quality of attachments in all cultures. This would mean that the research lacks external validity because the SS is based on cultural norms and may be considered ethnocentric.
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Evaluation of research into cross-cultural variati

  • There are not equal numbers of studies from each of the countries represented in the meta-analysis. For example, over half of the studies were frm the USA, meaning that some countries were represented by only a very small sample size. This means that the research lacks external validity because the sampling is flawed. There are different amount of children from each place, so it lacks population validity.

In conclusion, thinking about 'cross cultural differences' can encourage us to over-generalise and make stereotypical judgements about people from other cultures. In fact, what we learn from this research is that we are more similar to each other than we are different, and that there are bigger variations within the same culture than ther are between different cultures.

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Observations as a research method (1)

NATURALISTIC OBSERVATIONS - (eg. Ainsworth & Bell's observations in the home for the 1 year leading up to the SS) involve watching participants in their natural environment without manipulaating or attempting to control any variables:

  • Good levels of ecological validity as they are in a natural setting
  • Lack of internal validity - lack of control

CONTROLLED OBSERVATIONS - (eg. Ainsworth & Bell's Strange Situation) involve observing participants in a situation which has been set up and manipulated by the researcher so that specific behaviours can be observed:

  • Good amount of control (internal validity)
  • Lack of ecological validity
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Observations as a research method (2)

When planning an observation, one must consider the following:

  • More than one researcher to prevent bias or personal opinion interfering - INTER-RATER RELIABILITY
  • Behaviour categories which are operationalised. The better and 'tighter' the behaviour categories are, the better the inter-rater reliability.
  • PILOT STUDY - A small scale version of the research study to check all variables (including behaviour categories) are clear and accurate.
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Observations as a research method (3)

Time or event samplling?

Event: Behaviour categories (keeping a tally) - quantitative data.

Time: Record at regular intervals of time exactly what is going on - qualitative data (describing what is happening) or quantitative data (using behaviour categories)

Over or covert?

Overt: Open and visible

Covert: Invisible and hidden

Covert makes it unethical, but less socially desirable. In many ways, people would prefer to be covert, but this is harder to get consent for.

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Observations as a research method (4)


We need consent if we are not in a public place, or somewhere where you're unexpecting observation (private)


If you have fully informed consent or somewhere where there is already CCTV. You can check for any mistakes and check the inter-rater reliability.

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Learning Theory and Attachment

  • From birth, children have a basic need for food. When we are hungry, there is a strong drive to reduce this feeling (known as drive reduction) and therefore being fed satisfies this drive and brings with it a feeling of pleasure.
  • Food acts as a stimulus which elicits a feeling of pleasure which can be seen as the unconditioned respnse.
  • Initially, the mother (or person who does the feeding) is a neutral stimulus since she produces no response. However if she is continually associated with food, over time she becomes a conditioned stimulus, meaning that in time the presence of the mother alone brings a feeling of pleasure.
  • This means that the mother has become a conditioned stimulus and pleasure is the conditioned response.
  • Provided she remains the main provider of food, this attachment will be positively reinforced through the process of operant conditioning. This theory is refferred to as cupboard love.
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Evaluation of Learning Theory (1)

  • Evidence has found that comfort (not food) may be important when forming attachments. Harlow and Zimmerman found that the baby monkeys spent 22 hours of the day with the "mother" that had no food than the "mother" with just the food. Therefore comfort is more important than food. However, this research may lack population validity because the experiment was done on monkeys, so we cannot neccessarily assume that human infants would react the same.
  • Ainsfield did an investigation that suggestedthat touching is important in forming attachments, not just being fed. Ainsfield found that babies who were carried in a sling had a stronger attachment than those carried in a car seat/baby carrier. This would suggest that comfort is more important than food, resulting in a better attachment. This challenges learning theory. If it was just about food, the quality of the attachment wouldn't depend on how they were carried.
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Evaluation of Learning Theory (2)

Furthermore, Schaffer and Emmerson found that 50% of the children had a stronger attachment to somebody other than the mother, even though the mother had the food. This suggests that learning theory isn't always correct, as skin to skin contact also plays a huge role in forming an attachment.

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Evolutionary Explanations for Attachment

Main principle: Emotional needs are as impotant as physical needs such as feeding.

  • Innate predisposition: Children are born with the need to form attachments to a caregiver. Luckily adults have an innate drive to care.
  • Adaptive: Forming attachments helps us to survive and so we say they are adaptive.
  • Social releasers: Characteristics which babies are born with to help them survive eg. Cute smiles that mean they get cared for.
  • Critical period: You need to form attachments by the age of two and a half or you will not be able to form adult attachments.
  • Monotropy: Very special bond with the primary caregiver that is the most sensitive. Bowlby argued preferably the mother.
  • Internal Working Model: Your template for what attachment relationships should be like. Based on how they've been so far.
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Evaluation of Bowlby (Support)

  • If Bowlby is right, we will see monotropy in all cultures - Tronick et al reported that children raised in a pygmy culture called the Effe who are looked after and breastfed by different women, still develop central attachments with the mother
  • Internal Working Model - Hazan & Shaver printed a 'love quiz' in a newspaper to assess early attachment experiences, later experiences of adult romantic love and beliefs about romantic love. They found that securely attached as infants = tend to enjoy the best relationships, more likely to have successful relationships as adults, able to express feelings.and are able to trust people (compared to those who were insecurely attached as an infant)
    • However, this data is correlational, and therefore we cannot be certain that early attachment caused later romantic style.
    • The findings are based on retrospective recall
    • Howes et al: The internal working model would lead us to expect children to form similar sorts of relationships with all people, because the individual is always working from the same template. However, the correlations among a child's various relationships are actually quite low.
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Evaluation of Bowlby (Challenge)

  • Critical period - The concept of a critical period is perhaps too strong. There could be a sensitive period rather than a critical period. Tizard & Hodges found that children who never formed a strong attachment in the early years went on to form good attachments when adopted, therefore, Bowlby is wrong. 

This shows that attachments do not necessarily need to form in the first two and a half years.

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Disruption of Attachment - The PDD Model

DISRUPTION OF ATTACHMENT - Being separated from your caregiver with whom you have a bond with for several days/weeks.




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PDD - Robertson & Robertson (John)

AIM - To see if separation from the main caregiver is distressing for the child and damages the quality of attachment.

PROCEDURE - They conducted a naturalistic observation which took place in a nursery. 17 month old John was separated from his mother for nine days, while she had a second baby.

FINDINGS - For the first two days, John seemed calm and content without his mother. From day 3 onwards, John began to show signs of PDD: Protest, Despair and Detachment. When his mother came back on day 9, John struggled away from her, and never looked at her.

CONCLUSION - That separation from the main caregiver is distressing for the child and damages the attachment, if they experience bond disruption.

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Robertson & Robertson (John) AO2

Robertson & Robertson's case study of John seemed to confirm what everyone believed at the time. That being separated from the main caregiver was bad for the child, would cause distress, and potentially cause long term damage to the attachment, even if it was a strong, secure attachment beore the separation. However, Robertson & Robertson had a belief that it was not the separation that caused damage, but the lack of a attachment between the child and the caregiver.

They felt that if only someone had tried to form an emotional bond with John, he would have been less distressed and it would have caused himm less (if any) long term damage to attachment with his mother. This is known as the "permanent mother substitute".

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PDD - Robertson & Robertson (Jane)

The hypothesis of a "permanent mother substitute" was tested out on the case study of Jane:

PROCEDURE - Jane was separated from her mother for 10 days, but instead of going to a nursery, she was cared for by Joyce Robertson herself. Robertson looked after her, played with her and acted as a "permanent mother substitute". After time Jane formed an attacment to Robertson.

FINDINGS - When Jane's mother returned, her attachment was still secure and transferred her attention to her mother.

This research has given us some practical applications:

  • People who work with young children should be encouraged to form emotional attachments
  • When looking to leave a child with a substitute carer, their ability to provide sensitive emotional care is as important as their ability to provide for their physical needs.
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Case Studies - Evaluation

DEFINITION - Indepth pieces of research based on individuals.

  • Allows us to gather information from experiments that are too unethical.
  • Case studies provide valuable information about the effects of early privation on children's emotional and physical development.
  • Tizard & Hodges examined children raised in an institution. Early childhoods were well-developed, so the accuracy was good - natural experiment
  • Children become so affected that they may be unable to give fully informed consent for any further research - ethical issues.
  • It is very difficult to maintain the accuracy of looking back into the past to piece research together - it is difficult to draw conclusions. Lacks control.
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Privation (1)

DEFINITION: The complete failure to form any emotional attachment during infancy.

Investigating the effects of privation is very difficult, for two main reasons:

  • It's very rare in real life, and you cannot deliberately make it happen for the purpose of scientific research - too unethical.
  • Lots of children who have failed to form a single attachment have also been maltreatde (beaten, starved) making it difficult to know whether the effects the children show are due to the privation or the maltreatment.

Therefore, there is a heavy reliance on case studies, such as the famous case of Genie.

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Privation (2) - Genie

What were the effects on Genie of her privation?

  • Physically very small
  • Couldn't speak
  • "Intellectual retardation" - under-developed, severe cognitive impairment
  • Movements were bizzare

How did Genie react after she was taken into care? (did she recover or not?)

  • Looked like she was receptive to others - early promising signs
  • However, she hadn't really recovered at all.

Is there anything else that could account for Genie's poor recovery, apart from the emotional privation she suffered?

  • How she was treated after she was found - bond became disruptive, eneded up in a residential home.
  • May have some severe learning difficulty
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Privation (3)

What are the effects of privation (4 marks)

  • Poor parents: Harlow found that monkeys thatbhad been separated from their caregivers since they were born were poor parents themselves.
  • Intellectual under functioning: Genie who was found aged 13 years did not recover her full intellectual functioning skills or language development. She could speak words but never grammar.
  • Disinhibited attachment: Some children who have never formed an attachment to their caregiver do not discriminate between people they have never met and people they have. Meaning they can be over friendly and clingy with strangers.
  • Physical under development: Genie also was small for her age and had muscle wastage - she did not develop a full range of motor skills.
  • Few problems: The Czech twins who were privated from an early age showed a good recovery developing normal speech after recovery and forming normal adult relationships.
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Privation (4) - Czech twins

  • Born in 1960 - twin boys
  • Brought up in care after mother's death
  • At 18 months, given back to father, where they suffered privation until they were 7 years old.
  • Locked up in unheated cellar, beaten and starved.
  • No speech
  • Terrified of people
  • Serious health problems
  • Adopted by two sisters
  • Developed average intelligence
  • Formed strong emotional bonds
  • Happy and sociable
  • Totally repaired with few psychological problems
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Privation (5) - Louise and Mary

  • Kept in a small room
  • Tied to a bed with dog leads.
  • If they were too noisy, a blanket was placed on their head.
  • Louise (3 1/2) Mary (2 1/2)
  • No speech
  • Showed little ecidence of play
  • Louise developed normal language and attended primary school at 5 years old.
  • Mary didn't develop speech and was moved to an autistic unit at the age of 7 and a half. 
  • A brother was found, remained autistic with severe learning difficulties.
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Privation (6)

4 main factors that seem to determine whether the effects of privation will be permanent or not are:

  • Age
  • Quality of life/care
  • Learning difficulties
  • Case studies are hard to generalise to the whole population as they are only one person
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Institutionalization - Hodges & Tizard (1)

AIM - To investigate the effects of institutional upbringing on later attachments, the effects of privation on later social and emotional development and if the effects of privation can be reversed.

PROCEDURE - Studied 65 children who had been in residential nurseries for most of their life. Been relatively looked after, but had suffered privation in their lives. By the age of four, 24 children were adopted, 15 returned to their natural home (restored) and the rest remained in care. They were compared to a control group who were closely matched to the children and had never experienced privation.

FINDINGS - Those who had been adopted had formed an attachment by the age of 8, which was better than those who were restored. Those who remained in an institution or were restored had behavioural issues and were seeking attachment.

CONCLUSION - Bowlby's theory is correct about the critical period, however the number of years for the critical period differs. High quality care and loving relationships can reverse privation effects.

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Institutionalization - Hodges & Tizard (2)


  • Easier to generalise as the number of children studied is higher - good ecological validity.
  • More scientific credibility than case studies - bigger sample and the children are looked after better


  • Because it is a natural study, there is less control over extraneous variables - poor internal validity.
  • Attrition must be considered, particularly if those who dropped out had the most problems.
  • Questionnaires - elements of social desirability.
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Day care (1)

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT - Learning the skills that we need to interact successfully with other people.


  • A naturalistic observation of 3-4 year olds who spent a certain amount of days a week in day care (a nursery school) for 10 weeks.
  • He used a number of measures (behaviour categories), including frequency of interactions (with staff and peers) and aggressiveness.
  • He discovered that day care does not increase aggression in children as they became more sociable and aggression towards one another decreased. He also observed that day care improves peer relations; the children became more sociable with one another and drifted further away from the staff/caregiver
  • Children who spent 5 days a week in day care showed greater changes than those that spent 2 days a week in day care, which led them to conclude that it was daycare which was having the positive effect.
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Day care (2)


  • The NICHD (National Institute for Child Health and Human Development) conducted a longitudinal study which followed the progress of more than 1000 American children since 1991. they fund that children who spent the ost time in day care (away from the family) between birth and 4 and a half years of age were most likely to be rated as disobedient and aggressive by both teachers (once they got to school) and by parents. Some of the behaviour problems identified included temper tantrums, lying and hitting.
  • DiLallo found that children who spent long days in day care were less co-operative and helpful towards their peers.
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Day care (3)

  • Direction of Causality - It may be that too many hours in daycare makes children aggressive, but equally it could be that parents put them in daycare because they are too aggressive to look after at home
  • Third variables:
    • Age of child - Very young babies may not have had very long enough with their primary caregiver to form a secure attachment, and this may make the effects of day care negative.
    • Quality of day care - the NICHD study reported that quality of day care could be largely determined by 3 factors: Adult/Child ratio, Qualifications/education of caregiver, Sensitive/positive caregiving
    • Amount of time spent in day care - Campbell found that children who spent long days in daycare were less socially competent than those who spent shorter days in daycare.
    • Social class - Children from poor families are less likely to experience high quality day care. Children from wealthier families can access the more expensive forms of day care which may be able to offer more stimulating environments, more highly qualified (better paid) staffand lower adult/child ratios - extraneous variable.
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