Types of attachment and case studies

Mary Ainsworth- Strange Situation

The strange situation- Mary Ainsworth


  • 100 middle class american infants and thier mothers
  • controlled observation was developed. Involving obeserving infants with their mothers during activities.
  • Mum and child are introuduced to the room
  • Mum and child left alone to investigate the room
  • Stranger enters the room and talks with the mum and then the S approaches infant with a toy
  • M leaves infant with S and S interacts with the child
  • M returns to comfort the child
  • Infant left on its own
  • S returns and tried to engage with Infant
  • Mother returns, greets and gets the child and S leaves


  • seperation anxiety
  • infants willingness to explore
  • stranger anxiety
  • reunion behaviour
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Mary Ainsworth- Strange Situation


The observational records led Ainsworth and Bell to classify the infants into 3 broad groups:

· One group tended to explore the unfamiliar room; they were subdued when their mother left and greeted her positively when she returned. These were described as securely attached and 66% were classified in this group.

· Second group did not orientate to their mother while investigating the toys and the room; and didn’t seem concerned with her absence, and they showed little interest in her when she returned. These were described as avoidant-insecure infants. Mothers sometimes ignored their infants 22% were classified into this group.

· Third group showed intense distress particularly when the mother was absent, and rejected her when she returned these are resistant-insecure infants and 12% of infants were classified into these groups. Observed that mothers acted ambivalently.

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Mary Ainsworth- Strange Situation


This study shows that there are significant individual difference between infants, and that these can be represented using three broad category types. It also shows that most of the North American children who were observed were securely attached. Furthermore there appears to be an association between the mothers behaviour and the infants' attachment type which suggests that mothers behaviour may be important in determining attachment type

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Mary Ainsworth- Strange Situation


  • you cannot make generalisations about all infant behaviour based on this sample. The study and its findings are limited to middle-class American infants, i.e. the findings are culturally based
  • Later another group was identified called the 'Disorganised group'. Where the children showed inconsistent behaviour, confusion and indecision. they also tend to freeze or show stereotyped behaviour like rocking.
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