Childhood Attachment: The Strange Situation Study

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 00:10

      BARBARA GORMLEY: Hi, I'm Barbara Gormley.I'm a licensed psychologist with many years of experiencehelping families improve their relationships, includingby going into their home and helping strengthen attachmentrelationships.[Barbara Gormley, Licensed Psychologist, Professor,Psychology]And I'm also a tenured professor of psychology at Governor StateUniversity.And my main emphasis is attachment relationships,

    • 00:30

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: which are close, important, relatively irreplaceablerelationships, like parent child relationships and alsolike adult romantic attachments.So what I want to talk to you about todayis The Strange Situation, which is an experiment thatwas done that helped us to understandthat children have different attachmentstyles to their parents.

    • 00:51

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: And why this is important to look atis because the earlier we recognizesome behavioral indicators of attachment stylesthat might put them at risk for their future development,the earlier we can intervene.So what I'll talk to you about todayis the experiment itself, how that went,why they did what they did, and what we can conclude from it.

    • 01:16

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: And specifically, I'm going to be talking to youabout differences between secure, avoidant, andambivalent attachment styles in children.[John Bowlby]So to begin, I want to talk a little bitabout the developer of attachment theory, whowas John Bowlby.And he was in London during World War Two, and at the time

    • 01:39

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: it was common practice for parentsto send their children to the countryto get them away from the bombingand the parents stayed in the city.And so of course, the parents thoughtthey were protecting their children,but what John Bowlby noticed is that the children wereput at risk because of these lengthy separations.And he started to wonder whether childrenwould be attached or not attached

    • 02:01

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: after these kinds of separations.And he also studied children in orphanages,and he came to the conclusion that youcan be attached and lose that attachment,or you might not ever become attached.And so it wasn't until he was working on a research teamwith a woman named Mary Ainsworththat we realized that this was a little bit more complicated.She created an experiment called The Strange Situation that

    • 02:23

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: helped us to understand that there are actuallymore ways for children to be attached to their parentsthan John Bowlby thought.So this experiment was very interesting.It was done in the 1970s in the United Stateson the East Coast, and Mary recruited about 100 birthmothers and their children.And these children were all 12 months to 18 months old.

    • 02:44

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: And she brought them into her lab,and she had a little observation room set up.So in this observation room, therewas a carpet, and some toys, and a chair, and a table,and a on-way mirror.So there were observers behind the one-way mirror thatwere paying attention to what the child didunder varying conditions.

    • 03:06

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: So first, the mother and child were in the room on their ownfor about three minutes, and the observerswere recording what the child did.Did the child stay by the mother's side?Did the child play with the toys or explore the room,look around?Did they seem comfortable?And then after about three minutes of that,a stranger entered the room, so this is a stressor.

    • 03:28

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: And the observers were checking to see,did the child seem afraid of the stranger?Did the child go over to the motherto help get comfort because the stranger waskind of invading the space?Or did the child just keep playing?After about three minutes, the mother left the room.So now the stranger is alone in the room with the child.And again, the observers are trying

    • 03:50

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: to see does the child seem upset?Is the child looking for the mother,or does the child go over to the doorto try to find where the mother went,or does the child start to cry?And then after about three minutes of that,the mother comes back in and the stranger leaves.And so now the observers are looking at re-union behavior.So the child was separated from the mother under stress

    • 04:12

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: and now it's reunion time.So what does the child do during reunion time?Do they run up to the mother and ask to be picked up?Do they let her comfort them, or do they do something else?So after about three minutes of that,the mother leaves the room and leaves the child alonein the room.Now today, we could probably not do this experiment,

    • 04:34

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: because we know now that these kinds of separationscan be very distressing to children.But at the time, we didn't know that.And actually this was the experimentthat led us to understand that.So when the child was alone in the room,they were observed to see if they cried,if they looked for the mother.How they coped with being alone.

    • 04:55

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: And then when somebody came back into the roomafter three minutes, it was the stranger.So again, this is a stressful situation.And what does the child do?Do they run up to the stranger to be picked up and comforted?Do they turn away?What do they do?How do they react to that?And after about three minutes, the mother comes back inand the stranger leaves.

    • 05:15

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: And re-union behavior after all thatis then examined to see how the child responds.Is the child angry?Is the child upset?[Results of Strange Situation Study]We found some very interesting results from this experiment.We found that children fit mostlyinto three major categories of attachment styles.

    • 05:39

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: There were a few children who did not fit into any categoryand were very hard to understand.That small number of children, maybe less than 5% of children,have been studied more since then.But because it's so rare, I'm notgoing to talk too much about that today.But about 70% of the children fell into the secure attachmentstyle category, meaning they had optimal attachment.

    • 06:01

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: And then the rest of the childrenfell into two insecure groups, avoidant and ambivalent.So I want you to take a look at the tablethat I provided under the secure column.So I'm going to start right now talking about secure children.And what happened was that the secure childrenwere upset when the mom left the room and happy

    • 06:22

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: to see her come back.They did go over to her when she came back and let her comfortthem.And they also played with the toysand were friendly to the stranger,but only when mom was in the room.Now Mary Ainsworth followed these childrenafter this experiment happened, and she found outthat these were the children that had the best outcomes.They trusted other people when that was appropriate.

    • 06:43

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: They had a lot of confidence in their ability to get support,and they felt very worthy of respect themselves.So exactly what we would hope for.So the second category of childrenthat I'm going to talk about is the avoidant group of children.So these children had a very different responseto The Strange Situation experiment.And you can look at the table under avoidant

    • 07:06

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: to see what they did.And they actually weren't upset when mom left the roomor even interested when she came back.And they played with the toys the whole time,and they were willing to let either the stranger or mom pickthem up and comfort them.So this is a very different patternof attachment in terms of respondingto these stressful separations and reunions.

    • 07:29

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: So again, following these childrenthroughout their life, what was discovered about themwas that they did not trust other people.They found other people to be less than helpful to themand actually felt like communicatingtheir needs to other people didn't make senseto them at all.Unfortunately, they also felt unworthy themselves.

    • 07:51

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: So next I'm going to talk about ambivalent attachmentstyle in children.And this group of children had a very different responseto The Strange Situation experiment.And you can look at the table under ambivalentand see that these children were very upsetwhen the mother left the room and ran to herwhen she came back in the room but were difficult to soothe.

    • 08:12

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: They resisted her efforts to comfort them.They were also the most afraid of the stranger and the leastlikely to do any exploring or playing with toys in the room.Upon follow up, they were the childrenwho were most likely to escalate their emotions, perhapsin an effort to get attention, and theywere most likely to have a negative self-image.

    • 08:32

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: [How do attachment styles develop?]So how do these insecure attachment stylesdevelop compared to the secure attachment style?Well, attachment styles develop through parent behavior.And Mary Ainsworth followed up with these particular mother

    • 08:54

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: child dyads that she studied in The Strange Situation.She went into their homes to see what the mothers were doingand what the differences were in these three categories.And what she discovered was that the parentsof the secure children were consistently responsive.So when the children needed something from herand signaled her that they needed help,she would go over and try to figure outwhat would be most likely to help them

    • 09:15

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: to keep growing and developing.And she did that regularly and very consistently.Now when the children were avoidant,the pattern that the mothers followed were very different.So the mothers of avoidant childrenhad a very hard time being responsive

    • 09:36

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: and would probably even be called insensitive.And so when the children signaled that they needed her,they needed help with something, the motherwas very likely to withdraw, reject them, become angry,or turn cold in that moment.And so they actually weren't able to beresponsive to the children when the children were signalingthat they needed help.

    • 09:58

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: The parents of the ambivalent childrenhad a completely different pattern of response,and it's called an inconsistent pattern of response.Sometimes they could respond to the child and sometimes theycouldn't.And sometimes when they responded,they were just so anxious and nervous about whether theywere doing it right that it sort of just didn't work.You can't really soothe a baby whenyou're so nervous yourself because they kind of pick up

    • 10:18

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: on that.[How to Help with Insecure Attachment]So what can we do about these insecure attachment styles?If we notice these kinds of behaviorsor these relationships developing this way,what can we do to help these children have better futures

    • 10:40

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: and more success in the future?Well, there are interventions thatgo into families' homes early, called infant mental healthor maternal support interventions,and they work with parents and childrenusually at the time that the parent's feeding the childor at a time when the parent's bathingthe child, because these are very stressful times in life.And what they do is they try to understand

    • 11:01

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: what the parent needs to get through those interactionsmore effectively.And so the therapist is in a sense re-parenting the parentby trying to be responsive to themand helping them get what they need,so they can keep growing and developingand can internalize that sense of consistent responsivenessthat they're getting from the therapistand then hopefully pass that on to their children

    • 11:22

      BARBARA GORMLEY [continued]: more and more over time.So what I've talked to you about todayis an experiment called The Strange Situation that is stillused today as a classification systemfor trying to figure out what children's attachmentstyles are.And I also spoke to you about the differencesbetween secure attachment, avoidant attachment,and ambivalent attachment style.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Childhood Attachment: The Strange Situation Study

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Abstract

Professor Barbara Gormley explains attachment styles and attachment in parent-child relationships. The Strange Situation was an experiment conducted to classify attachment styles, and it discovered secure and insecure attachment styles. Gormley also discusses different attachment styles and how to build secure attachment between a mother and child.

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Childhood Attachment: The Strange Situation Study

Professor Barbara Gormley explains attachment styles and attachment in parent-child relationships. The Strange Situation was an experiment conducted to classify attachment styles, and it discovered secure and insecure attachment styles. Gormley also discusses different attachment styles and how to build secure attachment between a mother and child.

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