Mary Ainsworth

Would you trust me with your kids?

Mary Ainsworth and her Stranger Paradigm

Born: 1913  Died: 1999

Mary Ainsworth grew up in the small-town of Glendale, Ohio and had two younger sisters.  She and her sisters were all really tight.  In fact, the whole family really got along well.  Mary would see her neighbors and was often perplexed when the relationships were not all hunky dory like with her kinfolk.  So she set out to study human relationships.

Mary got her doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Toronto, then went on to teach in Canada, England and Uganda.  It was in Uganda (that is in Africa for all of you pretending you knew where it was) that Mary noticed that different kids had different relationships with their moms at a very young age.  So Mary set out to study how young children attach with their mommies.

Mary Ainsworth researched the idea of attachment by placing infants into new and strange situations.  She would observe the infant’s reaction to the strange situation (as she called it) which was their parents leaving them alone in a room and then returning a short time later.  She divided the reactions of the children into three broad categories:

  1. Secure attachments (66% of infants): these children would confidently explore the novel environment while the parents were present, are distressed when they leave, and come to the parents when they return.
  2. Avoidant attachments (21% of infants): these children resist being held by the parents and will explore the novel environment.  They do NOT go to the parents for comfort when they return after an absence.
  3. Anxious/Ambivalent/Resistant attachments (12% of infants): these children have undecided reactions to the parents.  They may show extreme stress when the parents leave but resist being comforted by them when they return.