The assess how infants between 9 and 18 months

The strange situation
was a testing procedure created by Mary Ainsworth et al. in 1978 to measure attachment. The aims of this study were
to assess how infants between 9 and 18 months behave under conditions of mild
stress in order to test stranger anxiety, separation anxiety and the secure
base concept. Ainsworth also assessed individual differences between mother and
infant pairs in terms of the quality of their attachments. The sample was 100
middle class American infants aged between 9-18 months and their mothers. They
were assessed in an 8 stage controlled observation study and the behaviour of
the infant was recorded after every stage. The first stage was the infant and
care giver entering the unfamiliar room, briefly followed by the child being
encouraged to explore the new surroundings. After about 3 minutes a stranger
enters 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 if
needed. The care giver then re-enters the room after 3 minutes and offers the
infant comfort if needed and the stranger leaves. Soon after the care giver
leaves, leaving the infant alone, however the stranger then re-enters offering
comfort to the infant. Finally, the care giver enters and greets the infant. The
behaviours that were tested were proximity seeking, exploration and secure base
behaviour, stranger anxiety, separation anxiety and the response to reunion. Three
types of attachment were distinguished; insecure-avoidant, securely attached
and insecure-resistant.


A strength of
Ainsworth’s strange situation is its high internal validity. Due to her use of
a controlled condition Ainsworth could control many of the factors within her
experiment. Ainsworth controlled the experiment by using the same stranger
throughout the whole study, the amount of time with/without the infant was
assessed and the mother’s behaviour was controlled. Another strength of her
study is that it was very easily performed and observed. The study required
very little equipment, except for a child friendly room and toys for the infant
to interact with. As a result of the controlled condition the study can be
replicated multiple times to check the consistency of the findings. Also,
researchers stood behind a one-way mirror and observed the mother-child and
stranger-child relations that occurred.

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On the other hand, a
disadvantage of Ainsworth’s strange situation is its low external validity. As
a result of the experiment occurring in an artificial environment, the data
cannot be easily applied to the outside world. The artificial environment may
have caused the child distress and therefore affected the results. Another
disadvantage of the study would be its cultural bias. The experiment was
performed on only American mothers and infants, this reduces the representativeness
of the data as attachments in other cultures may differ from ones in America. A
final disadvantage of Ainsworth’s study is that it only studies mother-infant
relations, excluding father-infant attachments. In 1981, Main and Weston found
that children acted differently in the strange situation depending on which
parent they were with. Some children showed insecure-attachments to their
mothers, but secure attachments to their fathers, showing that attachment types
are linked to individual relationships with carers and not set characteristics
of children. Overall this shows that the strange situation may not be a valid
measure of attachment types. 


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