December 1, 1913|
|Died||March 21, 1999
|Era||20th century philosophy|
|Main interests||Attachment theory|
|Alma mater||University of Toronto|
|Notable ideas||Finding of securely attached, insecurely attached - avoidant and ambivalent children, Strange situation|
Mary Dinsmore Salter Ainsworth (//; December 1, 1913 – March 21, 1999) was an American-Canadian developmental psychologist known for her work in early emotional attachment with the Strange situation design, as well as her work in the development of attachment theory.
Mary Ainsworth was born in Glendale, Ohio in 1913. She was the oldest of three daughters to Charles and Mary Salter . Her parents both graduated from Dickinson College. When Ainsworth was 5 years-old, her father was transferred to a manufacturing firm in Toronto, Canada where she spent the majority of childhood. Ainsworth was a clever child who thirsted for knowledge. She began reading by the age of three, and she became quite close with her father, who assumed the duties of tucking her in at night and singing to her. On the other hand, she did not have a warm relationship with her mother. While her parents always put a strong emphasis on education, it was William McDougall's book Character and the Conduct of Life that inspired her interest in psychology.
Ainsworth began classes at the University of Toronto at the age of 16 and decided to focus on psychology. She was one of only five students to be admitted into the honors course in psychology. Ainsworth completed coursework for her bachelor degree in 1935, and decided to continue her education at the University of Toronto with the intentions of earning her doctorate in psychology. She stayed to teach for a few years before joining the Canadian Women's Army Corps in 1942 in World War II, where she administered clinical evaluations and personnel assessment tests, reaching the rank of Major in 1945.
She returned to Toronto to continue teaching personality psychology and conduct research. She married Leonard Ainsworth in 1950 and moved to London with him to allow him to finish his Ph.D at University College London.
After many other academic positions, including a long tenure at Johns Hopkins University, she eventually settled at the University of Virginia in 1975, where she remained the rest of her academic career. Ainsworth received many honors, including the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Child Development in 1985 and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association in 1989. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.
During graduate school, Mary studied under the mentorship of William Emet Blatz, who was the founder and first director of the Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto. Blatz focused on studying what he referred to as “security theory.” This theory outlined Blatz’s idea that different levels of dependence on parents meant different qualities of relationships with those parents, as well as, the quality of relationships with future partners. His tiers of dependence were labeled secure dependence, independent security, immature dependent security, and mature secure dependence. Blatz theorized that the more secure and mature that the interaction was between individuals, the more likely the relationship to be healthy and without insecurities. After leaving the Canadian Women's corps she returned to Toronto to continue teaching personality psychology and conduct research. She married Leonard Ainsworth in 1950 and moved to London with him to allow him to finish his graduate degree at University College. While in England, Ainsworth joined the research team at Tavistock Clinic investigating the effects of maternal separation on child development. Comparison of disrupted mother-child bonds to normal mother-child relationship showed that a child's lack of a mother figure leads to "adverse development effects."
In 1954, she left Tavistock Clinic to do research in Africa where she carried out her longitudinal field study of mother-infant interaction. Ainsworth's book from that field study, Infancy in Uganda remains an exceptional and classic ethological study in the development of Attachment, and demonstrates that the process reflects specific universal characteristics that cross linguistic, cultural and geographic lines.
She and her colleagues developed the Strange Situation Procedure, which is a widely used, well researched and validated, method of assessing an infant's pattern and style of attachment to a caregiver. (See Attachment theory.)
In the 1970s, Ainsworth devised a procedure, called a "Strange situation", to observe attachment relationships between a caregiver and child.
In this procedure of the strange situation the child is observed playing for 20 minutes while caregivers and strangers enter and leave the room, recreating the flow of the familiar and unfamiliar presence in most children's lives. The situation varies in stressfulness and the child's responses are observed.
On the basis of their behaviors, the children were categorized into three groups, with a fourth added later. Each of these groups reflects a different kind of attachment relationship with the caregiver.
A child who is securely attached to its mother will explore freely while the mother is present, will engage with strangers, will be visibly upset when the mother departs and happy to see the mother return. However, the child will not engage with a stranger if their mother is not in the room.
Resistant insecure attachment
A child with an anxious-resistant attachment style is anxious of exploration and of strangers, even when the mother is present. When the mother departs, the child is extremely distressed. The child will be ambivalent when she returns - seeking to remain close to the mother but resentful, and also resistant when the mother initiates attention. When reunited with the mother, the baby may also hit or push his mother when she approaches and fail to cling to her when she picks him up.
Avoidant insecure attachment
A child with the anxious-avoidant insecure attachment style will avoid or ignore the caregiver - showing little emotion when the caregiver departs or returns. The child may run away from the caregiver when he/she approaches and fail to cling to her/him when picked up. The child will not explore very much regardless of who is there. Strangers will not be treated much differently from the caregiver. There is not much emotional range regardless of who is in the room or if it is empty.
- William Emet Blatz
- John Bowlby
- Attachment theory
- Reactive attachment disorder
- Attachment measures
- Attachment in children
- Ainsworth, M. and Bowlby, J. (1965). Child Care and the Growth of Love. London: Penguin Books.
- Ainsworth, M. (1967). Infancy in Uganda. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.
- Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of Attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- "Mary D. Ainsworth". Social Security Death Index. Retrieved 7 April 2011.[dead link]
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- Main, Mary; Solomon, Judith (1990). "Procedures for Identifying Infants as Disorganized/Disoriented during the Ainsworth Strange Situation". In Greenberg, Mark T.; Cicchetti, Dante; Cummings, E. Mark. Attachment in the Preschool Years: Theory, Research, and Intervention. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 121–60. ISBN 978-0-226-30630-8.
- Colin Murray Parkes (2006). Love and Loss. Routledge, London and New York. p. 13. ISBN 0-415-39041-9.
- O'Connell, A.N., & Rusoo, N.F. (1983). Models of achievement: Reflections of eminent women in psychology. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Mary Ainsworth on The Psi Cafe
- Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society
- Articles by Mary Ainsworth including summaries and links to full-text
- Transcript of oral history interview and CV (both in PDF format) from the Society for Research in Child Development
- Transcript of oral history interview (PDF) from the Canadian Psychological Association
- Episode about Mary Ainsworth from the BBC radio 4 program Mind Changers