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Attachment in practice – Attachment behaviour – strange situation test

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A way of assessing the quality
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of the attachment relationship
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for 12 to 18-month-olds
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was developed by psychologist Mary Ainsworth.
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This assessment is known as the strange situation.
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The general idea of this
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is that the mother and child
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go into an unfamiliar room
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and a stranger enters and stays with the child
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whilst the mother leaves the room.
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The child's reaction to the mother leaving is observed
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and the child's reaction to the stranger is observed.
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When mother comes back in,
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the reunion is observed.
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The child's behavior at separation and reunion
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will indicate the type of attachment that's developed.
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When the child has an insecure, avoidant attachment,
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the child is unaffected
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by the separation from the mother
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and doesn't react to her when she returns.
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When the child has an insecure, ambivalent attachment,
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the child is extremely distressed
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and difficult for the mother to console
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when she returns.
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A securely-attached child may be upset
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by the mother's absence,
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but will respond enthusiastically to her return.
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Of course it's not always this straightforward.
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As well as these common types of attachment,
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there are also more extreme insecure forms
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where the child has had to develop quite complex ways
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of coping with his or her distress.