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By the age of one, a baby is an active explorer of the world. Attachment is the intense relationship to one person typical of the mother/infant relationship. Security of attachment to a primary caretaker—-usually the mother—helps a baby gain confidence and the willingness to explore its environment. A baby who seems to be secure and confident, not overly shy or anxious, is called securely attached.

What is attachment? What attachment styles did Ainsworth observe?

For many years psychologist Mary Ainsworth studied attachment between babies and mothers. She distinguished between securely attached and anxiously attached children. The anxiously attached group is divided into two subtypes: anxiously attached avoidant babies and anxiously attached ambivalent babies.

Securely attached infants usually appear active and happy. They are willing to explore a new room if the mother is present. They warm up quickly to a stranger who talks with the mother first. They are not greatly disturbed if the mother is briefly absent from the room (although this may depend on other factors such as mood and tiredness). If all the adults leave, so the baby is alone in the room, the securely attached infant becomes anxious and runs to the mother's side when she reappears.

Anxiously attached, ambivalent infants do not explore a strange room full of toys. They cry and cling to the mother even before being separated from her. They act suspicious of strangers and get very upset if the mother leaves the room. When she returns, they may pout or continue crying. They are "ambivalent" (caught between two opposites) in the sense that they seem dependent upon the mother and insecure when she is gone, but when she reappears they do not act very affectionate or loving toward her.

The third group, anxiously attached, avoidant infants, is not even upset by separation from the mother. They do not cry when she leaves. When she returns, the baby may ignore her or react casually to her presence. Or the baby may avoid her. The more such a baby is distressed, the less likely he or she is to seek contact. This is the opposite of the first group (securely attached infants) in which babies seek contact with the mother in stressful environments. The avoidant infant avoids such contact.

The obvious implication is that securely attached babies have a good relationship with the mother. This makes them feel confident and able to explore novel environments without anxiety. They value the mother as a source of security and miss her when she is gone. The anxiously attached, ambivalent babies seem fearful and anxious. They feel more secure with the mother present, but when she leaves, they feel resentful, and although they run to her when she returns, they continue to show their distress instead of showing happiness about seeing her again. The anxiously attached, avoidant infants gain no feelings of security from the mother and would rather avoid her.

Continuity of attachment

Matas, Arend, and Sroufe (1978) decided to study continuity of attachment. Would the children who were securely attached at age 1 be strong and healthy personalities at age 2? The research project involved testing the same group of children at 18 months and 2 years old. Different testers did the assessments each time, and the later testers had no knowledge of the earlier results. Yet the same children who were rated as securely attached at 18 months were described as "more enthusiastic, persistent, cooperative, and in general, more effective" at age 2.

What were the findings from research on continuity of attachment?

In follow-up studies, the same children were rated highly competent at the age of 4 in peer interactions at a nursery school. They got along well with other children. They showed a zest for pursuing new intellectual skills, ability to direct themselves, and ability to tolerate novelty in the environment.

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