Mary Ainsworth: biography of this psychologist and researcher

The work-life balance is particularly complicated, especially for women. Although steps are being taken to reconcile these two areas, there is still a long way to go. His fight began many years ago with Mary Ainsworth.

Ainsworth was an American psychologist who over 70 years ago supported this struggle. He also made other contributions, such as condition theory, through The Strange Situation. In this article, we will know in a few words a biography of Mary Ainsworth and a review of their contributions.

    Mary Ainsworth: biography of this American psychologist

    Mary Ainsworth was an American psychologist born in Glendale, Ohio, in December 1913. She entered the University of Toronto in 1929 and graduated in 1935. She is considered a pioneer in studies of affection, and therefore in the theory of tilt.. On the other hand, he is also interested in aspects of the woman and the human being, which until then were relegated to the background.

    In turn, she was one of the most influential and cited psychologists of the twentieth century, although in her day women had greatly limited their professional prominence. At present, their contributions continue to be a pillar on which to build further studies in psychology.

    Trajectory and life

    Mary Ainsworth was born in the United States, however her family moved to Toronto, Canada when she was a child. She graduated in Developmental Psychology from the University of Toronto and received her doctorate in 1939. Upon graduation, she joined the Canadian Navy Women’s Corps; he spent four years in the army and obtained the rank of major.

    A few years later, she married and moved to London with her husband. so he started working at the Tavistock Institute alongside psychiatrist John Bowlby. The two embark on a path of research based on children’s experiences of separation from their loving characters or caregivers.

    In 1953 he moved to Uganda and started working at the African Institute for Social Research in Kampala; here he continues his research on the early relationships of children with their mother.

    A moment later he got a place at the Johns Hopkins Institute in the United States and later at the University of Virginia, Where he continued to develop his theory of affection, until 1984 he retired from work.

    Finally, Mary Ainsworth passed away in 1999, at the age of 86, after a life devoted to developing and researching one of the most important psychological theories we have today.

      The theory of tilt

      Mary Ainsworth, alongside John Bowlby, developed one of the most important psychological theories for understanding early social development: Attachment Theory. This theory was originally formulated focusing on children, although Mary Ainsworth later (in the 60s and 70s) introduced new concepts, and finally in the 80s extended the theory to adults.

      To study the tilt, he designed the strange situation, which we will see in detail in the following lines.

      The strange situation

      Mary Ainsworth is known, among many other contributions, for having conceived “The Strange Situation” with her collaborators in 1978: it was about a laboratory procedure to study tilt in childhood. It consisted in establishing two episodes of separation between the child and his caregiver (generally the mother) to analyze the type of attachment of the child, through his attitude and his exploratory behavior under conditions of stress (separation).

      Specifically, Mary Ainsworth and colleagues studied children between 10 and 24 months old, using 8 episodes involving separation and reunion with the mother, as well as the presence of a stranger in some of them.

      From this experience, they classified the affection of the children according to the behavior they exhibited during the separation, as well as their attitude during the reunion with the mother.

      The results suggested classifying the condition into four types: secure attachment, avoidant anxiety state, resistant ambivalent anxiety state, and disorganized / disoriented bond. Let’s see what each of these types of conditions is:

      1. Safe affection

      It is the most common condition (occurs in 65% of children). involved that the child actively explores when the mother is present (safe basis), and that he is worried about the separation. Finally, the child is affectionate when the mother returns.

      2. Avoidance, rejection or ephemeral condition

      It appears in 20% of cases. Child shows little discomfort upon separation, avoids and ignores mother upon returnHe gets angry and doesn’t look for her when he needs her. Exploratory behavior is active. They are children who can be very social with strangers.

      3. Ambivalent or resistant condition

      It occurs in 10 to 12% of cases. This type of condition characterizes children who explore little, who stay close to the mother, who are very worried about the separation and before it, and who are ambivalent about the mother’s return. They explore little and are difficult to reassure.

      4. Disorganized-disoriented state

      It appears in 3 to 5% of cases and is the least safe model. here resistant and avoidant patterns are combined; inconsistent and contradictory behaviors appear.

      Mary Ainsworth’s work

      Mary Ainsworth emphasized the importance of developing a healthy relationship of maternal affection, that is, a healthy and secure inclination in the child. He also underlined the influence that an unsecured grip could have on the child as well as in his adult stage.

      According to Mary Ainsworth’s tilt theory, one of the key factors affecting the condition is the mother’s sensitivity to her baby’s needs, Which is considered vital for the development of a secure grip.

      This psychologist has often spoken in favor of the need to implement programs that will help women reconcile their careers with their motherhood. Indeed, at that time, it was almost unthinkable for women to be able to reconcile these two facets of life. That’s why Mary Ainsworth is considered one of the forerunners of work-life balance programs for mothers. She was therefore a researcher and at the same time an advocate, and fought for women’s rights in this sense, taking an interest in aspects that were very important for women, those that had always been overlooked.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Main, M. and Hesse, E. (1992). Disorganized / disoriented behavior of the baby in the strange situation, falls under the supervision of reasoning and speech during adult maintenance of parents and dissociative states. In M. Ammaniti and D. Stern (Eds.), Attachment and psoanalysis.
      • Vasta, R .; Haith, MM; Miller, SA (2001). Child psychology. Ed. Ariel. Barcelona.
      • Papalia, DE; Olds, SW; Feldman, RD (2005). Developmental psychology from childhood to adolescence. McGraw-Hill. Madrid.
      • Fonagy, P. (2008). Theory of affection and psychoanalysis. Clinic and Health, 19 (1), 131-134.

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