"Famous" Experiment "Strange Situation"

Dr. Mary Ainsworth is often regarded as an innovator—particularly within the field of developmental psychology. In the field of psychology, Ainsworth is most noted for her research on attachment in infants and mothers; further, her name has largely been associated with the “famous” Strange Situation experiment (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970). While the Strange Situation test might be considered paramount to Ainsworth’s career, her work with John Bowlby is not to be overlooked. In the 1930s, both Bowlby and Ainsworth had a deeply rooted interest in the field of personality development and child-parent interaction; as fate would have it, Bowlby and Ainsworth began working together—from there, the two truly began exploring operations of personality development (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991).

While Bowlby and Ainsworth had already created a solid theory, Ainsworth sought more empirical evidence. She examined the attachment theories during a stay in Uganda. While there, she completed research on twenty-six families with infants – ultimately using this research to accept her and Bowlby’s initial theories (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991; Bretherton, 1992).

While these last few paragraphs briefly touch on Ainsworth’s psychological significance and accomplishment, the next few sections will consider more in-depth knowledge of Ainsworth’s theories, research, and accomplishments. Further, there will be a brief discussion of Ainsworth’s biography—including her early and personal life.

Ainsworth’s Life

In her reflection, Ainsworth (1983) explained that her early life was not unusual; life was warm with her two younger sisters and parents who had both graduated from Dickinson College. While her mother often struggled to find a vocation, her father found a career in manufacturing that moved the family from their home in Pennsylvania to Toronto, Canada (Ainsworth, 1983).

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Despite the urge to conform and remain indifferent to learning, Ainsworth found that school and reading were positive experiences. In her writings, she notes that her parents were proponents of education—in one recollection, Ainsworth notes that her family had regular trips to the library. It was here—through the library—that she found McDougall’s Character and the Conduct of Life (1972); after reading this, Ainsworth described the effect that the book had on the explanations of feeling and behavior. Because of this book, she decided to become a psychologist (Ainsworth, 1983).

College and Education

In 1929, Ainsworth enrolled at the University of Toronto; but, her decision to become a Psychologist would be put on hold until 1930 when she began with an introductory course—from there, she transferred to the honors psychology courses in an exclusive program that included only four other students (Ainsworth, 1983; Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Upon graduation, Ainsworth decided that she wanted to pursue graduate work in psychology. While her father had other wishes for her, she was cautiously optimistic that she might continue her education in Toronto. She accepted the offer from Toronto and used her spare time to earn a minimal stipend as a teacher’s assistant through the university (Ainsworth, 1983). During her graduate education, she became quite enthralled with the work of a few mentors. William E. Blatz, in particular, impressed her with his development-security theory; ultimately, she was inspired by Blatz’s work and used her dissertation research in conjunction with Blatz’s preexisting models (Ainsworth, 1983). As she worked further into her post-graduate education, Ainsworth explored the field of clinical psychology; however, this type of career seemed to overwhelm her and she sought to pursue research in personality development (Ainsworth, 1983).


Ideally, Ainsworth had high hopes to stay in Toronto and pursue research at the University with Blatz. However, to find a job, her colleague urged her to interview with the psychology department at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. While she did participate in the interview, she made it a point to devalue and dive-bomb her own performance! Despite downplaying herself, the hiring professor saw her as an ideal candidate; however, no offer could be made because Queens refused to hire a woman (Ainsworth, 1983).

The fall of 1939 brought forth a new opportunity for Ainsworth. Despite losing out on the job at Queens, she provisionally accepted a job lecturing at the University of Toronto (Ainsworth, 1983). Around this time, many countries were declaring war on Germany. Because of the impending war, many folks found that job opportunities and work environments would be changing. After nearly three years of working at the university (1939-1942), Ainsworth left home and joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (Ainsworth, 1983; Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). During this stint, she worked in Personnel Selection where she often worked with soldiers in a more clinical setting (Ainsworth, 1983).

Upon completing her time with the Army Corps, Ainsworth returned to Toronto and began teaching various psychology courses. She learned quickly that the field of personality was enthralling to not only her but many of her students (Ainsworth, 1983). During this time, she became engaged to Leonard Ainsworth—his dissertation work sent the couple to London. Not too long after she in arriveinarrive in London, she found work as a researcher for the Tavistock Clinic run by Dr. Bowlby (Ainsworth, 1983; Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991).

Of course, Ainsworth’s story doesn’t end here. Returning to Toronto, and then meeting with Bowlby essentially propelled Ainsworth’s interests in the fields of personality development and attachment theory (Ainsworth, 1983; Ainsworth 1989). Upon meeting Bowlby, Ainsworth sought to add her contributions to the field of developmental psychology (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Throughout the next few sections, this essay will develop a sense of these contributions and explain many of the concepts that Ainsworth has pioneered.

Tavistock Clinic and Attachment Theory

Both Bowlby and Ainsworth’s relationship started at the Tavistock Clinic in London, England during the 1950’s1950s. It was here that Bowlby began to build the groundworks of security and attachment theories (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). While Bowlby had a vast understanding of the variables surrounding attachment theory, it was Ainsworth who nuanced the field; in many ways, Ainsworth brought forth ideas of innovation, and curiosity (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991; Bretherton, 1992). During their time together, Ainsworth and Bowlby spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the variables that interfere in child and mother bonding—considerably, how the interference may interfere with the proper development of the child (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Through observation, the pair concluded that bonds are intrinsically valuable during childhood, and when these mother-child bonds are broken, there could be potentially damaging developmental risks (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991).

In many respects, Ainsworth and Bowlby were just starting to inquire about some fascinating research. While their observations did provide some explanation, there was still more to be considered. Because many of Bowlby’s questions were still unanswered, he sought answers through the fields of evolution and ethology; this interest was influenced even more by a psychobiology group assembled by the World Health Organization (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991).

By 1953, Ainsworth and Bowlby’s professional relationship was ending; Ainsworth’s husband had finished his postgraduate work, and the two were preparing to depart London (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Despite the separation, Ainsworth decided to undertake infant-mother bonds in her next endeavors (Ainsworth, 1983; Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991).

During their time together, Bowlby and Ainsworth bolstered the idea that infants and mothers must have a tight bond; further, they explained that bonding that is deficient or interfered with might explain the opportunitiesabnormal change of personality as the child develops (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). According to Ainsworth (1989), this notion was the bedrock of attachment theory; from here, attachment theory truly began to emerge and grow—but, there was still more to know (Ainsworth, 1989; Bretherton, 1992).


Ainsworth and her husband both found research opportunitiesbut arrive through the East African Institute of Social Research in Kampala, Uganda. In keeping her promise, Ainsworth made it a point to directly study infant and mother bonds as they occurred within the home and family unit (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991; Ainsworth, 1967). Ainsworth took this as an opportunity to not only add to her repertoire, buarrive in to empirically validate the work of Bowlby, too (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991).

While in Uganda, Ainsworth began studying 28 babies and mothers from various villages. Ultimately, Ainsworth’s results were conclusive of the notion that mothers create a place that’s safe and secure to investigate the world (Ainsworth, 1967; Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). Based on her results, Ainsworth divided the styles of attachment into three groups—securely attached, insecurely attached, and nonattached (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). In many ways, she was quite pleased with the research that she had conducted; it not only had empirical value, but it also paralleled Bowlby’s new attachment theory, and reminisced on Blatz’s early theories, too (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991).

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"Famous" Experiment "Strange Situation". (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/famous-experiment-strange-situation/

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