Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999)

Mary Ainsworth was born in on 1 December 1913 in Ohio, United States. She was a Developmental Psychologist and was best known for her research on Attachment Theory and in particular her “Strange Situation” study which she carried out in 1978 with children aged 12 – 18 months, 100 families took part in her study.

In the Strange Situation study the young child and mother play together in a room, the child is free to play with the toys in the room and explore. A stranger then enters the room and tries to interact with the child. Sometime later the mother leaves the room and returns after a short period of time, approximately 3 minutes. The child’s reactions are observed and recorded. Ainsworth categorised the child in one of three ways, securely attached, insecure avoidant or insecure resistant. A fourth category of Insecure disorganised was added later.

Securely attached: prefers their mother to the stranger, seeks physical proximity to their mother, uses their mother as a secure base to explore the room and toys, is upset when their mother leaves the room and when she returns they are positive and happy, avoids the strange when alone and friendly when the mother is present.

Insecurely attached (three types):

Avoidant: little interaction with their mother, not distressed when she leaves the room and doesn’t seek comfort from her when she returns. Plays normally when the stranger is present.

Resistant or Ambivalent: Clings to their mother and does not explore the room very much. Very distressed when the mother leaves the room and resists contact on her return and possibly pushes her away. Avoids the stranger and may seem fearful of the stranger.

Disorganised: Child shows strong avoidance of their mother and/or extreme fearfulness. They are confused and fearful when left alone with the stranger.

Click here to watch a Youtube video about the Strange Situation.

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