The Strange Situation: A Technique for Assessing the Condition of Children

The first years of a child’s life are characterized by a set of significant changes, in which emotional development and social bonding acquire special importance. This has led psychologists to deepen the relationships of safety and protection that are established between babies and their primary caregivers. The most important contribution is the theory of affection, Developed by John Bowlby between 1969 and 1980.

Inclination refers to the emotional, emotional and intense bond that develops between a baby and their primary caregiver., Usually the mother or father. This style of bonding begins in childhood, around the age of 3 months, and lasts a lifetime, in relationships with friends, couples and children. Thus, the attitude of parents towards their children and the type of attachment that is established between the two, determine the quality of the emotional bonds that the baby will establish throughout his life.

While Bowlby laid the foundation for this theory, it was psychologist Mary Ainsworth who in 1960 developed the first condition assessment technique, known as a “strange situation”. Let’s see what it is.

    The Strange Situation Technique

    this is a technique devised by psychologist Mary Ainsworth and used in developmental psychology to determine the nature of the affection style in children from 12 months of age. This technique consists of studying the child in laboratory conditions, interacting with his main caregiver and a strange adult, by simulating three types of situations:

    • Natural interactions between caregiver and child in the presence of toys.
    • Brief separations from the caregiver i brief encounters with a strange individual.
    • Episodes of meeting with the caregiver.

    The experiment was carried out in a small room with Univision glass, in order to secretly observe the behavior of the child. The sample consisted of 100 middle-class American families, with babies between 12 and 18 months old.

    The instructions

    The procedure involved observing the baby’s behavior in a series of 8 episodes that lasted about 3 minutes each, which could be shortened if the baby was excessively distressed. The different stages of the experiment are presented below:

    1. Mother, baby and experimenter

    At this point, the observer introduces mother and baby to an experimental room with toys. For about 30 seconds.

    2. Mother and baby

    In this episode, the baby is exploring the room and the toys, While the mother is not participating in the activity.

    3. The stranger joins the mother and the son

    This is the moment when a stranger enters the room. During the first minute, he remains silent, to converse with his mother in the second minute. During the third minute, the stranger begins to approach the baby.

    4. The mother leaves the baby and the stranger alone

    This is the first episode of separation in which mother leaves the room. The behavior of the stranger is coordinated with that of the baby.

    5. The mother returns and the stranger leaves

    This is the first reunion episode. The mother comes in, greets and comforts the baby, Try to bring him back to his gambling activity.

    6. The mother leaves, abandoning the baby

    This is the second phase of separation.

    7. The stranger returns

    The separation from the mother continues, but now the stranger comes in to try to interact with the baby

    8. The mother returns and a stranger leaves

    This is the second reunion episode that the mother entersShe hugs the baby and the stranger leaves the room.

    Classification of snap styles

    The tilt ratings are based primarily on the observation of 4 mother-directed interaction behaviors in the two reunion episodes (episodes 5 and 8). These behaviors are:

    • Proximity and contact search.
    • To stay in contact.
    • Proximity avoidance and contact.
    • Resistance to contact and comfort.

    The observer notes the behavior shown during 15 second intervals and rates the intensity of the behavior on a scale of 1 to 7. At the end of the observation, three styles of affection are established to describe the connection that babies demonstrate with their mother. .

    1. Affection Safe

    Babies feel safe to explore freely during episodes of separation. They show distress when the mother leaves and respond enthusiastically to her return. This regimen was given in 65% of infants.

    2. Tied to avoid

    Babies included in this guideline are described as unsafe children. They show little distress at separation and when the mother returns they tend to avoid her. This case occurred in 25% of infants.

    3. Ambivalent affection

    The baby shows distress throughout the procedure, especially during the separation. Encounters with those who care for him produce a mixture of anger release targeting this one. This regimen was only given in 10% of infants.

    To learn more about the condition and its different types, you can consult this article: “Childhood condition: definition, functions and types”

    Bibliographical references:

    • Bowlbz, J. (1993). Inclination: affection and loss. Paidos Iberian.
    • Wallin, D. (2012). The condition in psychotherapy. Desclée De Brouwer.

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