Types of attachment

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Secure attachment

  • Strong bond between child and caregiver.
  • If seperated, child is distressed.
  • When reunited, child is easily comforted by caregiver.
  • Majority of attachments are of this type.
  • Associated with healthy cognitive and emotional development
  • Also known as 'Type B'
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Insecure attachments

The bond between child and caregiver is weaker.

Ainsworth et al came up with two types of insecure attachments:


  • If seperated from caregiver, child doesn't become particularly distressed
  • Can be comforted by a stranger
  • Shown by children who generally avoid social interaction and intimacy with others.


  • Child is often uneasy around their caregiver, but becomes upset if seperated.
  • Comfort gan be given from caregiver, aften resisted from the caregiver.
  • Children both accept and reject social interaction and intimacy.
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Ainsworth et al (1978) - Strange Situation


  • In a controlled observation, 12-18 month old infants were left in a room with their mother.
  • Eight scenarios occured, including being approached by a stranger, the infant being left alone, and the mother returning.
  • Infant's reactions were constantly observed.


  • 15% of infants were insecure-avoidant (Type A) - ignored their mother and didn't mind if she left. A stranger could comfort them.
  • 70% were securely attached (Type B) - content with their mother, upset when she left and happy when she returned. Avoided strangers.
  • 15% were insecure-resistant (Type C) - they were uneasy their mother, upset if she left. They resisted strangers and were hard to comfort when their mother returned.


  • Infants showing different reactions to their carers have different types of attachment.
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Ainsworth et al (1978) - Strange Situation


  • Research method used allowed control of variables, making the results reliable.
  • Lab experiment - lacks ecological validity.
  • Parents may have changed their behaviour, as they knew they were being observed.
  • New situation in the experiment may have had an effect on the children's behaviour - might not accurately represent their behaviour in real life.
  • Mother may not be the child's main attachment figure.
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Van Iizendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988)

Ainsworth et al's (1978) findings have been shown many times in the USA, but it wasn't then known whether they could be applied to other cultures. Cross-culteral studies have since taken place.


  • Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg carried out a meta-analysis of 32 studies of 'the strange situation' in different countries. They were analysed to find any overall patterns.


  • % of children classified as secure or insecure were similar across the countries tested - more differences within the actual countries than between them.
  • Secure attachments were the most common type of attachment in the countries studied.
  • Some differences found in the distribution of insecure attachments.
  • In Western cultures, the dominant type of insecure-avoidant children coming from Germany.
  • However, in non-Western cultures, the dominant type of insecure attachment was resistant.
  • Here, Japan had the highest proportion of insecure-resistant children.
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Van Iizendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988)


  • There are cross-cultural similarities in raising children, with common reactions to the 'strange situation'.


  • Children are bought up in different ways in different cultures. This may result in different types of attachment in different cultures. 
  • The 'strange situation' might not be a suitable method for studying cross-cultural attachment. 
  • Using a different type of study may have revealed different patterns or types of attachment in different cultures. 
  • One problem with the research method is that meta-analysis can hide individual results that show an unusual trend.
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Findings from Strange Situation Research

Some cultural differences are found. Grossman et al (1985) claimd that more avoidant infants may be found in Germany because of the value Germans put on independence - so avoidance is seen as good.

The causes of different attachment types are debatable. The causes may be the sensitivity of their carers and/ or their inborn temperment.

The strange situation experiment doesn't show a characteristic of the child. The experiment only shows the child's relationship with a specific person, so they might react differently with different carers, or later in life.

Attachment type may influence later behaviours. Securely attached children may be more confident in school and form strong, trusting adult relationships. Avoidant children may be insecure and attention-seeking in school and, as adults, their strong feelings of depencency may be stressful for partners.

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