Ainsworth’s Strange Situation: Pros and Cons

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About this sample


Words: 548 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jan 4, 2019

Words: 548|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jan 4, 2019

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.

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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.

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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Ainsworth’s strange situation: pros and cons. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 22, 2024, from
“Ainsworth’s strange situation: pros and cons.” GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019,
Ainsworth’s strange situation: pros and cons. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Apr. 2024].
Ainsworth’s strange situation: pros and cons [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jan 03 [cited 2024 Apr 22]. Available from:
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