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The Strange Experiment as Related to Attachment Between
Mother and Child

Lindsey
Miller-Boyd

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Kaplan
University

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abstract

Ainsworth
has been considered a leading classical researcher on child attachment.  This paper investigates the study, Attachment,
Exploration, and Separation: Illustrated by the Behavior of One-Year-Olds in a Strange
Situation, the
authors studied attachment behavior in young children.  The paper offers a critical look at the study
and offers ideas for future areas of study involving children and the bonding and
attachment process. 

Keywords: Ainsworth,
attachment, bonding, future study

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                           

 

 

Background

            In the study, Attachment, Exploration, and Separation:
Illustrated by the Behavior of One-Year-Olds in a Strange Situation, the authors, Ainsworth and Bell, studied
attachment behaviors in  young children
ages one-year to under two-years old (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970).  Throughout the entirety of this study,
Ainsworth witnessed the children’s behaviors and reactions in a highly
structured observational experiment where the children were exposed to new
environments and individuals.  Ainsworth’s
findings which included varied displays of security and insecurity within the actions
exhibited by the infants participating in the study, depending on the
situations to which they were exposed have long been considered to be classical
research in the area of child development. 

            The study
used periods of time broken into time intervals where the infants were placed
in a room equipped with a one-way mirror specifically suited for Ainsworth’s
observational expectations.  Each child
was observed in the following situations: the child was placed in an unfamiliar
room without the mother, the child was approached by a new person, the child
and the unfamiliar person are alone in the room, the mother returns to the room
to be with the baby, the mother again leaves the baby alone, the stranger returns
to the room, and finally the mother returns to the room again (Ainsworth &
Bell, 1970).  The authors closely
specified the parameters of the study, going so far as limiting the amount of
time the infants were allowed to be upset before being comforted and what
interactions the strangers were allowed to participate in with the babies while
in the strange room.  It appears that
these restrictions were put into place to ensure the care, welfare, and safety
of the infants participating in the research, and questions about the ethical
implications of this study would be confined to specific areas rather than
aimed towards the study globally.

                                                Author’s
Main Position

While witnessing the study progress, the author
was able to note and summarize universal and specific elements of insecurity
and security that were observed through the children’s behaviors and reactions
while in the strange room, with the stranger, and once again when their mother
returned..  The reactions were classified
in an index of attachment behaviors which include separation anxiety, which is
considered to be a normal and age appropriate response, exploration, which is
considered to be a “secure response”, anxiety, as a result of the strange person
or situation, and finally the interaction with the mother when she returned to
the strange room (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970). 
Using this scale each infant was given a classification which rated the
strength of the mother-child relationship. 
In this study a large number of the infants were upset when their mother
left and happy when they returned, Ainsworth interpreted this to indicate that
the bond between mother and child was strong and came from a secure home indicative
of a secure environment.  The last two sets
of observed behaviors were not as relationship with their mother or a strong
solid home environment.  These children
were observed as having severe and powerful reactions when being left by their
mother, which Ainsworth inferred would be indicative of manipulative behavior,
or no indication of being upset when their mother left them, which Ainsworth deduced
would be indicative of there not being any relationship between the mother and
the infant. 

                                                            Criticism

            It seems that Ainsworth creates a strong reliance on the
children’s attachment to their mother and their response to the strange
environment and person as an indication of the strength of the mother and child
bond.  This seems to be problematic as
not all children respond in the same manner, even though the stimuli may be the
same.  It should also be noted that
children may have vastly different responses to the same stimuli on different
days or in different stages of their personal development.  This has been witnessed by the author of this
paper in her own child’s development. 
The  above mentioned child was
born with hip dysplasia and as a result spent several months restricted to
braces and eventually a cast which immobilized his legs.  As a result of this he became more tolerant
of strange situations and strangers holding and touching him.  Per Ainsworth’s evaluation of this infant, it
would indicate that he does not have a strong, or any, bond with his mother, however
this is not the case.

            Another piece of evidence to be considered is the day to
day variations in infant’s behaviors. 
When a child is tired or ill, it is likely that their reactions to
unfamiliar people or situations will be magnified. Alternatively, when the
child is well rested and healthy their reactions may be immensely different and
likely calmer in nature.  This variation
in reactions may also be an indication that Ainsworth’s conclusions may lead to
inaccurate conclusions about the infant and mother bond.

            A final critical note on the study is that the study
relied only on the infant and mother in the observational study.  It is important to note that while a mother
and infant bond is traditionally seen as the “norm” in society, it is not
always the case.  It appears that society
is evolving where many families are choosing to have stay at home fathers
verses stay at home mothers.

                                    Suggestions for Future Studies on
Attachment and Bonding

            It would be interesting to see Ainsworth’s study expanded
to show the scale developed from the study in new and current studies on how to
help children develop healthy attachments. One future study of interest would
be how in-utero bonding influences future bonding throughout childhood.  In order to help assist mothers create a
strong bond in this study, they would be encouraged to spend time with their
child, during which they would experience bonding and growth through reading to
their child, singing to their child, and engaging in co-operative play experiences
with their child.  It has been shown that
children who have supported language development also have strong and secure
attachment relationships (Wittmer).

            An additional possibility for future research to build on
Ainsworth’s study should consider using children who spend at least five days a
week in a day care setting.  One group
should be comprised of children who are receiving daycare in small settings
with at least one adult and not more than five children, whereas the other
group should be comprised of children who are receiving daycare in a larger
setting with multiple adults overseeing multiple groups of children ranging in
ages.  This would help build on the
previous research done by Ainsworth as well as research done exploring consistency
in childhood leading to stronger and secure relationships (Whittmer).

While
it is important to note that Ainsworth’s studies have long been considered to
be classic studies in the field, it is always beneficial to continue classic
research experiments in order to expand on prior knowledge and create new areas
of interest in older as well as newer developing fields of study.

 

 

 

References

Ainsworth, M. S., & Bell, S .M. (1970).
Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of
one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development ,
41(1), 49–67.

Wittmer, D. (n.d.). Attachment: What Works? Retrieved January
10, 2018, from

http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/wwb/wwb24.html

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