Philosophy Dictionary of Arguments

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Upton I 57
Strange Situation/Ainsworth/Upton: The standard method for assessing attachment type in infancy is the Strange Situation developed by Ainsworth and Bell (1970)(1). This 20-minute procedure has eight episodes, designed to expose infants to increasing amounts of stress. Carers (typically mothers) and their one-year-old infants are observed in a playroom through a two-way mirror. The child’s attachment behaviours around their parents when in an unfamiliar environment are recorded.
The infants experience the following situations:

1. The mother and infant enter the room, which looks like a typical GP waiting room with chairs, magazines and some toys.
2. The mother and infant are left alone. The mother sits quietly on a chair, responding if the infant seeks attention. The infant usually plays with available toys.
3. A stranger enters the room, talks to the mother, then gradually approaches the infant with a toy.
4. The mother leaves the stranger alone in the room with the infant. The stranger tries to engage the infant with toys. If the infant becomes distressed the scenario ends here.
5. The mother returns and waits to see how the infant greets her. The stranger leaves quietly and the mother waits until the infant settles, and then she leaves again.
6. The infant is left in the room alone. If the infant becomes distressed the scenario ends here.
7. The stranger returns and again tries to engage the infant with toys.
8. The mother returns, the stranger leaves and the reunion behaviour is noted.

Observers are particularly interested in four infant behaviours: separation anxiety, willingness to explore, stranger anxiety and response to the mother following separation (reunion behaviour). >Strange Situation/Attachment theory.
Upton I 59
VsAinsworth: The Strange Situation has been criticised for being ethnocentric in its approach and assumptions, as it does not take into account the
Upton I 60
diversity of socialising contexts that exist in the world. Cultural values influence the nature of attachment. (Cole and Tan, 2007)(2). >Attachment theory/Cultural psychology.


1. Ainsworth, M and Bell, S (1970) Attachment, exploration and separation: illustrated by the behaviour of 1 year olds in a Strange Situation. Child Development, 41:49—65.
2. Cole, P.M. and Tan, P.Z. (2007) Emotion socialization from a cultural perspective, in Grusec, J.E.
and Hastings, P.D. (eds) Handbook of Socialization. New York: Guilford.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Ainsworth, Mary
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2020-09-19
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