The strange situationwas a testing procedure created by Mary Ainsworth et al. in 1978 to measure attachment. The aims of this study wereto assess how infants between 9 and 18 months behave under conditions of mildstress in order to test stranger anxiety, separation anxiety and the securebase concept. Ainsworth also assessed individual differences between mother andinfant pairs in terms of the quality of their attachments. The sample was 100middle class American infants aged between 9-18 months and their mothers. Theywere assessed in an 8 stage controlled observation study and the behaviour ofthe infant was recorded after every stage. The first stage was the infant andcare giver entering the unfamiliar room, briefly followed by the child beingencouraged to explore the new surroundings.
After about 3 minutes a strangerenters they talk to the care giver and attempt to interact with the infant.Next the mother leaves the room and the stranger offers comfort to the child ifneeded. The care giver then re-enters the room after 3 minutes and offers theinfant comfort if needed and the stranger leaves. Soon after the care giverleaves, leaving the infant alone, however the stranger then re-enters offeringcomfort to the infant. Finally, the care giver enters and greets the infant. Thebehaviours that were tested were proximity seeking, exploration and secure basebehaviour, stranger anxiety, separation anxiety and the response to reunion.
Threetypes of attachment were distinguished; insecure-avoidant, securely attachedand insecure-resistant. A strength ofAinsworth’s strange situation is its high internal validity. Due to her use ofa controlled condition Ainsworth could control many of the factors within herexperiment. Ainsworth controlled the experiment by using the same strangerthroughout the whole study, the amount of time with/without the infant wasassessed and the mother’s behaviour was controlled. Another strength of herstudy is that it was very easily performed and observed. The study requiredvery little equipment, except for a child friendly room and toys for the infantto interact with. As a result of the controlled condition the study can bereplicated multiple times to check the consistency of the findings.
Also,researchers stood behind a one-way mirror and observed the mother-child andstranger-child relations that occurred. On the other hand, adisadvantage of Ainsworth’s strange situation is its low external validity. Asa result of the experiment occurring in an artificial environment, the datacannot be easily applied to the outside world. The artificial environment mayhave caused the child distress and therefore affected the results. Anotherdisadvantage of the study would be its cultural bias. The experiment wasperformed on only American mothers and infants, this reduces the representativenessof the data as attachments in other cultures may differ from ones in America.
Afinal disadvantage of Ainsworth’s study is that it only studies mother-infantrelations, excluding father-infant attachments. In 1981, Main and Weston foundthat children acted differently in the strange situation depending on whichparent they were with. Some children showed insecure-attachments to theirmothers, but secure attachments to their fathers, showing that attachment typesare linked to individual relationships with carers and not set characteristicsof children. Overall this shows that the strange situation may not be a validmeasure of attachment types.