Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation

Trairatvorakul, Pon MD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: July/August 2016 - Volume 37 - Issue 6 - p 519
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000286
Book Review

Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH

Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest.

Article Outline

This is the classic edition of an influential psychological study performed and written by nationally recognized expert and her associates that has revolutionized the current knowledge of attachment behavior. It would be impossible for developmental psychologists to not have come across Ainsworth's contribution to Bowlby-Ainsworth developmental attachment theory. The purpose of this volume is to educate and deepen understanding of researchers, primary and allied heath care providers, and trainees through reporting methods and key results of Mary Ainsworth's landmark Baltimore longitudinal study from observation of infant-mother interaction and attachment behavior. In addition to 1978 edition, this book features new information on the 4 caregiving and interaction scales developed by Mary Ainsworth from observations of 9-month-old to 12-month-old infants making them easily accessible to interested individuals.

The Baltimore project beautifully illustrated the nature of the child's relationship to his or her primary caregiver and emphasized the importance of early experience. In a meticulous yet succinct volume, the authors provide a comprehensive resource to researchers and practitioners that addresses available research studies that have used the Strange-Situation Procedure (SSP). The logic, flow, and comprehensive coverage of chapters with great analogies used to demonstrate theoretical background enable readers, even those who are beginners to attachment theory, to build a foundation in attachment theory, viewed as a secure base relationship. The SSP is described as a laboratory-based unfamiliar situation used to observe the child's response to his/her mother's and stranger's behaviors. Children's behaviors are then organized and grouped into classificatory system.

Normative patterns of behavior linked to different social situations, types of statistical analyses used, and the reasoning behind these decisions are further explained. Individual differences are also addressed in detail. Review of other studies that had conducted SSP to address various variables such as neonatal separation, twins versus singletons, demographics, low birth weight, maternal attitudes and mother-infant interaction, and working versus nonworking mothers provide broader understanding of the ways patterns of attachment may or may not differ in these populations. These findings would also be of interest for infant and developmental psychologists, early childhood education specialists, primary care and developmental-behavioral pediatricians, family therapists, social workers with counseling roles, and early intervention in-home specialists/therapists.

Readers, especially researchers and practitioners, will appreciate wide-ranging components, including instruction to the mother, coding instruction, scoring systems, and maternal caregiving and interaction scales. This volume contains clear tables of quantitative research findings and perfect illustration of the Strange Situation.

The gaps in this otherwise outstanding volume are due to the authors' decision to focus on their main samples and review of studies that directly addressed one-year-olds and preschoolers. Undoubtedly, this innovative work has had a significant impact on prevention and intervention beyond the scope of what could be included in this volume. An additional section on clinical implication and a review of how patterns of attachment apply to adopted children would have improved clinical utility.

In conclusion, Ainsworth and team have provided an excellent framework describing attachment theory and how attachment behaviors are quantitatively measured through SSP. This is a “must have” for pediatricians, psychologists, social workers, and in-home therapists whose clinical care and research focuses on early childhood development, particularly social development. This book will also be of special interest to trainees, residents, fellows, and graduate students from various professional disciplines who will gain a deeper appreciation of attachment patterns, which can influence clinical encounters with young children and enhance the way care is provided in lieu of the importance of attachment figure and the child's interaction with that attachment figure.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author thanks Dr. Pamela High for her helpful revision and editing of this book review.

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