Strange Situation



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What does infants` behaviour in the “Strange Situation” tells us about their future psychological development
Children`s attachment to the caregiver plays a very important role in their future development. Ainsworth and Bell (1970) developed a procedure that measures the mother-child attachment quality. This test is called the “Strange Situation”. It was expanded by Main & Solomon(1990). It observes the infants` behavour in a strange room, while their mother is present, while there is a stranger and the mother is still present, while left alone with the stranger, when left completely alone and on reunion with the mother. Four main types of reaction are observed. They can be divided into two main groups-securely and insecurely attached children. Securely attached children (Type B) readily explore the room and play while the mother is there, they react positively to the stranger, while the mother is present, but once she is gone they show distress. On reunion they seek proximity to the mother, because she is their “secure base” and they are easily calmed down. This is the largest type of attachment. Typically parents are responsive and sensitive to the infant’s needs. There are three types of attachment in the second group of children-insecure-avoidant (Type A), insecure-resistant (type C) and insecure-disorganized (Type D).Infants, who are classified as insecure-avoidant type readily explore the room and show no particular distress ,when left with the stranger or alone. On reunion they have “avoidant” behavior; they do not seek proximity to their mother. Usually, these infants` parenting is rejecting. The next type of attachment concerns children with insecure-resistant attachments. They do not explore the room and show clingy behavior towards the mother. On separation they are intensely distressed, but in reunion they show ambivalent behavior-they seek proximity to the mother and then resist it. In these case parent`s behavior towards the child can be defined as ambivalent-sometimes they are warm and sensitive, but sometimes rejecting. The last type- Type D was added by Main and Solomon (1990) and it is very rare. These children have unusual and extremely disorganized behavior. They may appear frightened, depressed or sometimes even freezing and they are unable to cope with the situation. Parenting is said to be neglectful or even abusive. (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970)

These patterns of attachment have complex causes. They may depend on parental attitude, social environment or child`s temperament. However, these types of attachment can predict some main features in the future psychological development of the child .For example securely attached children are more likely to have better social skills and higher self esteem (Cassidy, 1994), while insecurely attached children tend to be less sociable, and with lower self esteem, more aggressive or even disruptive behavior is possible as well.

Many studies have examined mother-child attachment quality (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978).They support the hypothesis that the infants` behaviour in the “Strange Situation” can predict some of their future personal and interpersonal characteristics. But what exactly does this behaviour tell us about their future development. What behaviour in later age is typical for the secure and unsecure children? And how do the mother and the environment can affect that?

As in the “Strange Situation “infants use their mother as a “secure base to explore to room”, after a few years time she would be a secure base to explore the world (Waters & Cummings,2000). The securely attached children develop self confidence that there are loved and protected. They learn they deserve it and in addition to that, they know they can rely on and trust to other people. They learn also to be with positive attitude and confident in their decisions and actions. According to Maccoby (1980) these children will develop better social skills and intellectual curiosity. The security in their early years may also make them more empathic, compliant and persistent (Maccoby, 1980).Studies on this type of mother-child attachment show that these infants are likely to be more constructive and cooperative (Kochanska, Aksan & Carlson, 2005). Securely-attached children are better in forming social relationships; they may have more stable and harmonious relationship with the people around them than the insecurely attached children. (Cassidy, 1994).These children are also better in handling negative emotions and coping with negative situations. This could due to the fact that they were encouraged to express these feelings in the secure relationship, so they managed to learn how to deal with negative feelings in their every-day life,for the years to come.(Cassidy,1994).This attachment comes from the mother`s availability, from the way she responses to the baby`s needs –sensitively and supportively.

Unfortunately insecurely-attached children learn very different lesson (Thornton, 2008).These children have low self-esteem and consider themselves as unworthy of being loved. Their social and communicational skills are poorer than those of securely-attached children. Forming of friendships is more difficult for them and they are less willing to communicate with their peers in pre-school age and even after that (Park & Waters, 1989). As they are used to be rejected or have some doubts about their mother`s behaviour, they do not know what to expect and how to react to other people, so they often think they would be rejected or avoided by them, that is why, they cannot easily trust somebody else and they do not know that they can rely on somebody else.(Cassidy,1994).According to Lewis(1984) insecurely-attached boys may develop some kind of depression or social withdrawal. Fagot confirmed that, by stating that insecurely-attached boys have more internalizing problems, while insecurely attached girls have more externalizing problems. Studies also show that these children are more lonely (Berlin, Cassidy & Belsky,1994).Compared to the securely attached children ,they tend to be significantly less purposive, goal-directed and achievement orientated(Oppenheim, Sagi & Lamb,1988).They may appear less independent (Sroufe,1983).Sometimes they show higher levels of aggression (Cassidy,1994)and they are not able to handle negative emotions or events very well(Fagot, 1990).The inability to manage may due to the fact that the expression of these emotions when they were younger was problematic in their relationship with the mother –they could have been punished by the mother`s criticism or withdrawal ,when expressing them (Cassidy,1994).It also appears that for children who showed insecure behavior in the “strange situation” it is more difficult to form a stable and harmonious relationships . The insecure –disorganized children are even more insecure and with even more negative attitude towards many life aspects. They are also more likely to show some kind of psychological disorder such as eating disorders (O'Shaughnessy, 2009) and borderline personality disorder (Walter,2008).

The mothers of these children form insecure relationship with their child. In some cases they may be rejecting and not available when the baby needs comfort (Type A) or they may have ambivalent behaviour- sometimes they are worm, sensitive and responsive ,but sometimes they are avoidant and rejecting (Type B) and this confuses the child. The most extreme case is when the parental behaviour is neglectful or abusive (Type D).This can seriously damage child`s psychological development.

These are the main conclusions that can be made by observing infants` behaviour in the “Strange Situation”. Children’s psychological development may also be affected by a change in the parental attitude (eg. special training)(Van der Boom,1994) or the environment –stressful situations as parental problems, divorce, loss and others(Frosh, Mangelsdorf & McHale,2000;Lewis,Feiring and Rosenthal,2000).New people and places also play an important role in child`s development(Rushton & Mayers,2005)There is also an evidence that there is relationship by the way the mother recalls their childhood attachment and the relationship with her child-they tend to be the same(Fonagy, 1991).

To sum up-children with secure attachment are more likely to approach life confidently and with positive attitude ,to be more socially skilled, communicative and curious. They form strong relationships with their parents and friends and can cope with difficult situations, problems and decisions easier and to handle negative emotions and events better. Insecure children appear to be less confident, more withdrawn from social communication and with negative attitude towards people in general. They are more likely to be unable to cope with negative emotions and events and they are less goal-orientated .It is hard for them to be entirely independent and to make difficult decisions. These children hardly form stable relationships with people. The most severe case of insecure attachment may even cause psychological disorder.

Child`s attachment can be changed in early years, by training of the mother and it can change his/her whole life. There are also many other factors that may affect infants` attachment and development ,but it is clear that their behaviour in the Strange Situation can tell us some main points of the infants` future psychological characteristics.

Reference:
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Everett Waters,E. & E. Mark Cummings,E.M., (2000) .A Secure Base from Which to Explore Close Relationships, Child Development, Vol. 71, No. 1 pp. 164-172
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Kochanska, G. (2005).Temperament, relationships, and young children's receptive cooperation with their parents, Developmental psychology.  v. 41.p. 648

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Michael Lewis,M., Feiring,C.& Rosenthal,S. (2000). Attachment over Time , Child Development, Vol. 71, No. 3 pp. 707-720

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