Outline and evaluate strange situation as a method for assessing attachment in children
The aim of the strange situation was to examine individual differences in attachment styles. Ainsworth did this by putting a number of children aged 12-18 months in situations and examined their behaviour. The sample contained about 100 middle class American families. Ainsworth was particularly interested in observing separation anxiety, stranger anxiety and reunion behaviour in the infant. The technique used was sampling. This was recorded in a coding sheet which includes behaviour categories. The method involved the mother and the child in a series of 7 episodes. The findings of the strange situation were that there were many individual differences in responses to the strange situation, but three categories were made. One was secure attachment. 70% of the children were in this category. In secure attachment, the infant uses the mother as a secure base when present. The infant would be distressed when separated, but would be quickly comforted when the mother returned. Another category that Ainswoth found was called insecure resistant attachment. 15% of the children went under this category. The infant would be ambient and there would be inconsistency with the mother. The infant would feel extreme distress upon separation and would be resistant on reunion.
The final category was insecure attachment. 15% of children behaved this way. The infant would have no contact sought with the mother. There would be no distress on separation and there would be no stranger anxiety. Ainswoth concluded that a crucial factor that determines a child’s attachment to their mother is her sensitivity. The sensitive mother responds to their babies needs and is very consistent and accessible. Sensitive mother have babies which are securely attached. Insensitive mothers are inconsistent with their infant, and have insecurely attached babies. To evaluate, one important strength if the strange situation experiment is that it was high in reliability. This is because everyone that evaluated a child got almost identical results. The agreement was 94% which is high. This shows that the results are replicable and fairly correct, and that it achieves consistent results. For example, a study conducted in Germany found 78% of the children were classified in the same way at ages 1 and 6 years (Wartner, et al. 1994). This is a strength because it makes the research more scientifically correct. The biggest strength is that the strange situation classification has become the accepted methodology worldwide for measuring attachment. This shows that it is trusted enough for hospitals ect to use this method.
A weakness of strange situation is validity. Main and Weston found that children behaved differently when with a different attachment figure. This suggests that the classification of a6 attachment type may not be valid because its measuring the relationship to the mother and the child when the child may have a different attachment with, for example, their father. This means that the results could have been different if the child was with anther attachment figure. Another weakness is that the strange situation has also been criticized on ethical grounds. Because the child is put under stress (separation and stranger anxiety), the study has broken the ethical guideline protection of participants. Also, the sample is biased -100 middle class American families. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize the findings outside of America and to working class families. Overall the strange situation is the accepted mythology worldwide for assessing individual differences in attachment type, so this must mean it is very accurate.
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