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Ainsworth and her students developed a technique called the strange situation--a laboratory paradigm for studying infant-parent attachment.In the strange situation, 12-month-old infants and their parents are brought to the laboratory and, systematically, separated from and reunited with one another.Bowlby observed that separated infants would go to extraordinary lengths (e.g., crying, clinging, frantically searching) to prevent separation from their parents or to reestablish proximity to a missing parent.At the time of Bowlby's initial writings, psychoanalytic writers held that these expressions were manifestations of immature defense mechanisms that were operating to repress emotional pain, but Bowlby noted that such expressions are common to a wide variety of mammalian species, and speculated that these behaviors may serve an evolutionary function.Second, she provided the first empirical taxonomy of individual differences in infant attachment patterns.According to her research, at least three types of children exist: those who are secure in their relationship with their parents, those who are anxious-resistant, and those who are anxious-avoidant.
Avoidant children (about 20%) don't appear too distressed by the separation, and, upon reunion, actively avoid seeking contact with their parent, sometimes turning their attention to play objects on the laboratory floor.
Drawing on ethological theory, Bowlby postulated that these attachment behaviors, such as crying and searching, were adaptive responses to separation from a primary attachment figure--someone who provides support, protection, and care.
Because human infants, like other mammalian infants, cannot feed or protect themselves, they are dependent upon the care and protection of "older and wiser" adults.
In the strange situation, most children (i.e., about 60%) behave in the way implied by Bowlby's "normative" theory.
They become upset when the parent leaves the room, but, when he or she returns, they actively seek the parent and are easily comforted by him or her.