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Evaluate the 'Strange Situation'.

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Introduction

Evaluate the 'Strange Situation'. In 1971 and 1978, Ainsworth reported her findings from the Baltimore study of attachment. Ainsworth's main interest was in individual differences between mother-child pairs regarding the quality of their attachment. The Baltimore study was longitudinal. Ainsworth et al visited 26 mother-infant pairs at home every 3-4 weeks for the baby's first year of life. Each lasted 3-4 hours. Both interviews and naturalistic observation were used. But observation played a very strong role. To make sense of the vast amount of data collected for each pair, Ainsworth needed some standard against which to compare their observations. The STRANGE SITUATION was the standard they chose. Ainsworth and Wittig (1969) had devised this earlier. It was made of 8 episodes and each one lasted about 3 minutes, excluding the first one which lasted about 30 seconds. The 8 episodes of the Strange Situation: Episode Persons present Brief description 1 Mother, baby, observer Observer introduces mother and baby to experimental room, then leaves 2 Mother, baby Mother is passive whilst baby explores 3 Stranger, mother, baby Stranger enters. 1st minute: stranger silent. 2nd minute: stranger converses with mother. 3rd minute: stranger approaches baby. After 3 minutes mother leaves unobtrusively 4 Stranger, baby 1st separation episode. Stranger's behaviour is geared to the baby's. 5 Mother, baby 1st reunion episode. Stranger leaves. ...read more.

Middle

According to Lamb et al. (1985), the Strange Situation is "... the most powerful and useful procedure ever available for the study of socioemotional development in infancy". Ainsworth et al.'s classification system is generally regarded as very reliable and has been used in a large number of studies in which attachment has been the major dependent variable. A child's attachment style my change though as shown by Vaughn et al (1979). These are not the only attachment types that have been identified. Main (1991) found that in a series of more recent studies (for example Main et al. 1985), many children proved to be unclassifiable in terms of type A, B and C, they showed a mixture of disorientated and disorganised behaviours. This type was classified as type D behaviour called - insecure-disorganised/disorientated (Main, 1991). One interpretation of attachment type (which is based on the Strange Situation) is that it measures a fixed characteristic of the child. But if the family circumstances change, for example mothers stress levels rise, this child may be classed differently. This couldn't happen if attachment types were a permanent characteristic. Similarly, attachments to mothers and fathers are independent. So one child could be securely attached to its mother, but insecurely attached to its father. This shows that attachment patterns derived from the Strange Situation reflect qualities of distinct relationships, rather than characteristics of the child. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is true that mothers do leave their children for brief periods in different settings, often with strangers, e.g. babysitters. However, any method used in research which deliberately exposes children to stress is ethically questionable. The strange situation has also been criticised for not being realistic. This is because it is not true to life, and it does not reflect everyday situations. It may not actually be possible to generalise the findings to real-life settings. This also means that the strange situation lacks ecological validity. The classification of attachment may actually reflect the strange situation and not the actual attachment. Not all evaluations of the strange situations have been negative though. The strange situation is easily and efficiently replicated. As it is a systematic procedure, the experiment can be repeated under the same conditions. This means that in all experiments the infants are responding to a similar situation. Differences in their behaviour are not then due to differences in experiment. The experiment gives lots of different measures for assessing the attachment of a child to its mother. This is important as a single measure could give a false impression. Research also shows that different types of attachment may have different effects on a child's development. If this is so then it gives a real point to studying and classifying attachment patterns from 12 to 18 months. Jo-Anne Cromack ...read more.

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