aqa  Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’. Types of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant and insecure resistant. Cultural variations in attachment, including van Ijzendoorn.

Mary Ainsworth and Bell (1970) designed an experiment to measure the type of attachment between an infant and their caregiver.


  • To investigate individual variation in infant attachments; in particular differences between secure and insecure attachments


  • The Strange Situation test lasts for about 20 minutes and was used on American infants aged between 12 and 18 months.
  • It takes place in a laboratory and the method used is controlled observation
  • The Strange Situation consists of eight episodes, which involve the infant being separated from their caregiver, being with a stranger, and reunion with the caregiver. There are two separations and two reunions
  • Separation protest, the infant’s willingness to explore, stranger anxiety and reaction to reunion with the caregiver are the key behaviours used to assess the security/insecurity of the attachment relationship

Real footage of The Strange Situation


  • There were considerable individual differences in behaviour and emotional response in the Strange Situation
  • Most of the infants displayed behaviour categorised as typical of secure attachment 66% (Type B)
  • 12% were insecure-resistant (Type C) and 22% were insecure-avoidant (Type A)
  • The securely attached infants were distressed when separated from the caregiver, and sought contact and soothing on reunion
  • Insecure-resistant attachment was characterised by conflicting emotions and inconsistency, as the infants were very distressed at separation, but resisted the caregiver on reunion.
  • Insecure-avoidant attachment was characterised by detachment as the infants did not seek contact with the caregiver and showed little distress at separation.


  • The Strange Situation is a good measure of attachment in that it allows us to distinguish between the attachment types
  • It was concluded that secure attachment is the preferred type of attachment
  • Implications include the linking of secure attachment to healthy emotional and social development and the type of attachment to maternal sensitivity and responsiveness.


  • Reliability: Studies that have used the Strange Situation have found that it is reliable (if the same child was tested the same results would be found).
  • Validity: Evidence seems to suggest that securely attached infants are well adjusted both socially and emotionally later in their life, which is what the Strange Situation stated therefore it appears to be valid.
  • Reliability: The Strange Situation is easily repeated, its procedures allow the experiment to be repeated under the same conditions.
  • Ecological Validity: The Strange Situation is artificial in ways that may distort behaviour. For example, some mothers or caregivers are likely to behave differently towards their child when they know they are being observed than they would do at home when they are alone with their child. The Strange Situation is carried out in a laboratory, and so it can also be artificial in this way.
  • Ethnocentric: The Strange Situation was created and tested in the USA. As a result, it may be culturally biased (ethnocentric), as it is likely to reflect the norms and values of American culture. The Strange Situation test assumes that behaviour has the same meaning in all cultures, when in fact social constructions of behaviour differ. Therefore, the usefulness of the Strange Situation in assessing attachment across cultures may be limited by the subjectivity inherent in observation and interpretation of behaviour.
  • Ethical Issues: The ethics of this study are questionable as mothers and babies may become distressed / anxious, although episodes were cut short it they were.

Types of Attachment

The Strange Situation has been used in numerous other studies to assess attachment. Based on Ainsworth’s studies three types of attachments have been identified:

  • When the caregiver is present the infant explores the strange environment and plays happily and uses the caregiver as a secure base.
  • The infant shows distress when the caregiver leaves
  • 66 % of American children show secure attachment.

Cultural Variations in Attachment

Takahasi (1990)

The Strange Situation was carried out in Japan on 60 one year old infants with the following findings:

Type A (Insecure-Avoidant): 5%
Type B (Secure): 68%
Type C (Insecure-Resistant): 27%

More babies were insecure-resistant in Japan than America and very few were insecure-avoidant. This may be due to it being very rude in Japanese culture to ignore others. Japanese babies are also very rarely left alone, therefore the study is an imposed etic since it is an unusual situation for the Japanese infants to be placed in, meaning they are more likely to be distressed (and thus classified as insecure-resistant, perhaps erroneously. Therefore it is not a valid measure of their attachment style.

Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988)
  • Cultural Differences: The greater variation found within than between cultures shows that it is wrong to think of any culture as a whole. This means that we have to be careful not to over generalise results, and assume that one culture consists of the same practices.
  • Oversimplification of countries: It is oversimplified to view Britain or America as one single culture, as within each culture there are many sub-cultures differing in the nature of attachment types. Therefore, the findings may not be representative of the culture they are assumed to represent, and will generalise back only to the sub-cultures that were sampled.
  • Ethnocentrism: The Strange Situation was created and tested in the USA, which means that it may be culturally biased (ethnocentric). In other words, the Strange Situation reflects the norms and values of American culture (e.g. the belief that attachment is related to anxiety on separation).
  • Imposed Etic: Those who use the Strange Situation assume that behaviour has the same meaning in all cultures, when in fact social constructions of behaviour differ. For example, in Japan young infants are rarely parted from their mother, whereas German infants are taught to be independent from a young age. This means that infants may be wrongly classified, causing the test to be invalid.
  • Usefulness: Despite its limitations, the Strange Situation is the only test of infant attachment that has been used in several different countries. It could be argued that findings from the test could be used to understand some of the main sub-cultural differences found within any given country.


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