Strange Situation

Mary Ainsworth was a developmental psychologist who created a laboratory procedure to measure the quality of the infant-caregiver attachment.  The Strange Situation is made up of eight short, staged episodes between a 1-year-old infant and her or his main caregiver, usually the mother.  The researchers want to see how the infant responds to the stress of different adults coming and leaving this new playroom (Berger, 2018; Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014). 

In the Strange Situation, first the infant and the mother are in the room together.  The mother sits and the infant explores and plays with toys.  A stranger comes in, sits, and talks to the mother.  The mother leaves, and the stranger offers comfort if the infant is upset.  The mother returns and approaches the infant, offering comfort if needed.  There are additional separations and reunions.  The main thing the researchers look at is how does the infant react when the mother returns after being gone.  They also look at how the infant plays in the room when the mother is there at the beginning, and the infant’s response to the stranger, compared to the mother.  One-year-olds tend to show one of four types of attachment (Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014).  (See the article on the types of attachment for a video that shows the Strange Situation and three of the four types of attachment.) 


Berger, K. S. (2018). The developing person: Through Childhood and adolescence (11th

ed.). New York, NY: Worth.

Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Feldman, R. S. (2014). Child development: A topical approach. Boston, MA: Pearson.