What Is the ‘Strange Situation’ and What Can It Tell Us About Early Close Relationships? Essay

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‘Strange situation’ is an experimental procedure devised by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth (1970) to observe the differences in the quality of early attachment relationships. The expression ‘attachment’, originally introduced by psychoanalyst John Bowlby, refers to ‘an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one – a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time’ (Ainsworth and Bell, 1970, p. 50). Bowlby adopted an ethological-evolutionary viewpoint in his attachment theory: a child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure. Despite the validity of his theory, Bowlby failed to address the differences in attachment quality. Ainsworth’s strange situation study illustrates such differences empirically, and distinguishes the varying degrees of security of attachment with respect to the exploratory and attachment behaviour displayed by her experimental subjects. Further research and analysis of the strange situation found that maternal sensitivity, infant characteristics, and social support are predictors of secure attachment, although their relative importance is debatable. Although strange situation provides useful insights about early close relationships, it is limited in certain aspects, especially in measuring the attachment of non-maternal early close relationships. The strange situation is a laboratory procedure devised to test the security of attachment between infants and their respective mothers to determine the types of attachment and nature of attachment behaviours. In Ainsworth’s original study, 56 family-reared infants of white, middle-class parents were involved in the eight episodes that followed a standard order for all subjects (Ainsworth and Bell, 1970, p. 53). In episode 1, the Mother (M) carried the Baby (B) into the room. In episode 2, M watched B play for three

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