Types of Attachment

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Ainsworth et al. 1978

Sought to develope a reliable method of measuring the type and quality of attachment between infants and their caregivers. 

The Strange situation

  • Aim to see how infants behave under conditions of mild stress and novelty.
  • 106 American middle-class infants aged 9-18 months and mothers took part.
  • Took place in purpose built laboratory play room.
  • Group of researchers observe the infant throughout the procedure. Record behaviour every 15 seconds.
  • procedure consists of 8 controled and predetermined stages.
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Stages 1-3

1. Stranger introduces mother and child to the experimental room and leaves.

2. Mother and child left alone. Mother sits while infant plays.

3. stranger returns and talks to mother.

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stages 4-6

4. Mother leaves. Child alone with stranger. Stranger tries to interact with the child.

5. Mother returns to greet and comfort the child. Stranger leaves.

6. Mother leaves. Child left alone.

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Stages 7-8

7. Stranger returns and tries to ineract with the child.

8. Mother returns greets/picks up child. stranger leaves.

Each stage lasts aprox. 3 minutes.

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What are they looking for?

Separation anxiety -- How distressed is the infant when the mother leaves?

Stranger anxiety -- How does the infant respond to the presence of the stranger.

Reunion behaviour -- How does the infant greet the mother when she returns.

Use of parent as secure base -- How willing is the infant to explore a novel situation.

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Classification of attachment type

Ainsworth et al found that infants could be classified into thee broad attachment types: 

  • Secure (type B) ------> 66%
  • Insecure-avoidant (type A) --------> 22%
  • Insecure-resistant (Type c) -------> 12%


-Willing to explore. Mother used as safe base for exploration. 

-Comfortable with social interaction, High stranger anxiety, but happy to play with the stranger whilst mother present.

-Distressed when separated from mother but easily soothed when she returns.

- seek and comfortable with intimacy.

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insecure avoidant and resistant

Insecure avoidant

- willing to explore with or without presence of mother,

-Little response when separated from mother

-Little response when reunited with mother

-Ignores stranger

- Generally avoids social interaction and intimacy with others

Insecure Resistant 

- Unwilling to explore

- Respond with immediate and intense distress when separated from mother.

-High stranger anxiety 

- When reunited with mother displays conflicting desires for and against contact.

- Seek and reject social interaction and intimcay.

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Main and Soloman 1986

  • Re-analysed strange situation video tapes
  • proposed a fourth attachment type.

The disorganised type (type D) 

- All three of ainsworth et al.'s attachment types show relitively consistent pattons of behaviour.

-disorganised type are characterised by inconsistent patterns of behaviours.

-May show very strong attachment behaviour followed by avoidance or looking fearful.

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