Ainsworth and the Strange Situation



100 middle class mothers observed in a controlled environment through a two-way mirror. The infant's behaviour was determined through these catagories:

  • Secure Base Behaviour/exploration
  • Stranger Anxiety
  • Seperation Anxiety
  • Response to Reunion

There were 7  three minute episodes designed to test these areas:

1. The infant explores the room, tests secure base behaviour and exploration

2. A stranger enters and tries to interact with the infant, tests stranger anxiety

3. The mother leaves the infant and the stranger together, tests seperation and stranger anxiety.

4. The mother returns and the stranger leaves, tests the response to reunion

5.The caregiver leaves the infant alone, tests seperation anxiety

6. The stranger returns, tests stranger anxiety

7. The caregiver returns, tests reunion behaviour.


Type B (Securely attachment) 66%:

Exhibited secure base behaviour, they cried when the mother left and greeted her positively when she returned, treated the stranger differently to their caregiver but were still friendly when the mother was present. These mothers were described as sensitive.

Type A (Insecure Avoidant) 22%:

Did not use their mothers as secure bases and although becoming subdued when she left, did not show much interest in her when she returned. They avoided the stranger, but not as much as they did their mothers when they returned. They kept their distances, avoiding closeness. These mothers were described as ignoring their babies sometimes.

Type C (Insecure Resistant) 12%:

Showed intense distress when their mothers left and weren't relieved of it even when she returned. They seemed angry and rejected her attempts to comfort them. They were ambivalent to both the stranger and the mother, showing interest and disinterest, alternating between a desire for closeness and distance. This same pattern of ambivalence was repeated in the mothers, too.


It has good validity. Longitudal studies have found that these early attachment types are determinents of later relationships. Those of Insecure Resistant were found to be bullied and have adult mental health problems. This means it can explain subsequent outcomes and is thus a valid explanation.

It has good inter-rater reliability. Researchers tend to agree on which behaviour is allocated to which catagory, even when watching the same infant. One study found that there was a 95% among…


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