Relationships Between Infant Behavior in the Strange Situation and Maternal Behavior at Home - Measures and Methods of Assessment

Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation - Mary D. Salter Ainsworth 2015

Relationships Between Infant Behavior in the Strange Situation and Maternal Behavior at Home
Measures and Methods of Assessment


Although in the previous chapter we presented evidence that strange-situation behavior reflects stable individual differences in the nature of the infant’s attachment relationship to his mother, we did not concern overselves with how such differences might have arisen. In this chapter we examine the relationship between behavior of infants in the strange situation and the behavior their mothers displayed in interaction with them at home. It seems very likely to us that maternal behavior played a large part in influencing the development of qualitative differences in infant—mother attachment.

The subjects of this inquiry are the mothers of the 23 infants of Sample 1. Their behavior and its relationship to infant behavior at home has been dealt with in the same publications that were listed at the beginning of Chapter 7. In addition, we include several variables assessed by Mary Main and her students, which she hypothesized to be particularly relevant to the experiential background of Group-A babies, who avoided their mother in the strange situation (see Chapter 7). Furthermore, we refer to the detailed study of mother—infant interaction relevant to the feeding situation in the first quarter, as reported by Ainsworth and Bell (1969), and to an early analysis of the relationship between maternal fourth-quarter behavior and infant strange-situation behavior, as reported by Ainsworth, Bell, and Stayton (1971). Here for the first time all the available relevant data are brought together. Before presenting these findings, however, it is necessary briefly to define the measures of maternal behavior that we deal with in this chapter.

Measures of Maternal Behavior

Two types of measures were devised: one based on ratings and the other derived from behavioral codings. Some of these refer only to fourth-quarter behavior, some only to first-quarter behavior, and some to both. Let us first consider the measures derived from codings. The relevant codings were of episodes of infant crying, leave- and enter-room episodes, pick-up and put-down episodes, face-to-face interaction, and episodes involving maternal commands to the infant. The fourth-quarter measures were based on the narrative reports of visits that took place when the infants were 39, 42, 45, and 48 weeks of age and represent the mean for these four visits. The first-quarter measures were based on the narrative reports of visits that took place when the infants were 3, 6, 9, and 12 weeks of age—except for the measures of face-to-face behavior, which excluded the visit at 3 weeks.

In the early stages of analysis of the longitudinal data, however, and before the very time-consuming codings had been completed, we worked with rating procedures. Nine-point rating scales were devised, with points 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 anchored in detailed behavioral descriptions. These are not ordinary rating scales. Instead of being drawn up in a sketchy fashion in advance of data collection, they were devised on the basis of a careful examination of the behavior recorded in the narrative reports. (Indeed, we did draw up a set of a priori rating scales, but these were found inadequate to make the discriminations that it was possible to make once we knew more about mother—infant interaction than we did at the beginning of the project.) The precision and appropriateness of the behavioral definitions made it possible to achieve a very satisfactory level of interrater agreement among the two or more raters involved in each decision. Two sets of scales were devised, the first to deal with maternal behavior in the baby’s first quarter-year, and the second referring to his fourth quarter.

Twenty-two rating scales were devised for the assessment of first-quarter behavior.1 Of these we have chosen to present only the findings of the four that dealt with mother—infant interaction relevant to the feeding situation. These scales were based on a very detailed analysis of such behavior undertaken by Ainsworth and Bell (1969). A second set of scales was devised for the assessment of maternal behavior during the fourth quarter. Because using all 22 variables had seemed unduly redundant, we confined ourselves to four that seemed especially related to individual differences in the baby’s response to the mother. (The procedure for rating these scales is described by Ainsworth, Bell, and Stayton, 1971.)

Let us consider the various maternal measures, whether derived from rating or coding, according to the following classes of "font-family:"LinLibertine",serif">Responsiveness to Crying. The two relevant measures, in fact, focus on unresponsiveness to crying. Ignoring of crying—the mean number of crying episodes per baby’s waking hour to which the mother made no interventive response whatsoever. Duration of unresponsiveness to crying—the mean number of minutes per baby’s waking hour that he spent in crying during which the mother made no response to him. This includes both the latent period after the baby began to cry before the mother intervened and the duration of episodes of crying in which the mother did not intervene at all.

Behavior Relevant to Separation/Reunion. Only one maternal measure had been found to be related to infant response to separation and reunion. Mother’s acknowledgment of baby upon entering the room—the percentage of enter-room episodes in which the mother smiled or talked to the baby, or approached him, or in other ways initiated interaction with him.

Behavior Relevant to Close Bodily Contact. There were eight measures falling within this class. Only one of them deals with duration of contact. Mean duration of a pick-up episode—obtained by dividing the total holding time for each visit by the number of pick-ups that took place during the visit (first quarter only). Four measures deal with qualitative aspects of the mother’s behavior. Affectionate pick-ups—the percentage of pick-up episodes in which the mother behaves affectionately toward the baby, kissing him, hugging him, or caressing him. Abrupt, interfering pick-ups—the percentage of pick-up episodes that constitute an active interference with the baby’s ongoing activity (fourth quarter only). Tender, careful holding—the percentage of total holding time in which the mother was tender and careful in her handling of the baby. This behavior may be identified by a slowing of the mother’s usual tempo of movement, a muting of her characteristic intensity of behavior, and a sensitive pacing of her behavior to the infant’s response to contact with her. Inept holding—the percentage of total holding time in which the mother was inept or abrupt in her handling of the baby. Classed as inept was jerky maternal behavior, in which the baby’s head was inadvertently banged against something or in which the baby was held in an obviously uncomfortable position. A further measure deals with the purpose of the episode of contact. Routine holding—the percentage of total holding time devoted to routines such as feeding, changing, transport, and the like (fourth quarter only).

Two of the four measures devised by Mary Main, according to the hypothesis that they tapped variables particularly relevant to the development of mother-avoidance, related specifically to close bodily contact. These took the form of nine-point rating scales in which careful behavior definition was given to each of the odd-numbered points. Aversion to physical contact—this scale measures the extent to which the mother appears to have an aversion to or dislike for physical contact, whether with people in general, with babies in general, or with this particular baby. A rating of 9 was given for strong aversion to contact with the baby if the mother was observed to withdraw from contact as the baby attempted to touch her, or if she actually said that she disliked or feared contact with him. A rating of 5 was given for inconsistent or moderate dislike of contact that may be inferred from frequent references to the “fact” that holding spoils a baby, repeated holding in unnatural ways that minimize close bodily contact, impatience in holding, and the like. A rating of 1 was given in instances in which there was no evidence of dislike of contact. Because the rating procedure has not yet been published (Blehar, Ainsworth, & Main, 1978), it is appropriate to say that ratings quarter by quarter were done by two pairs of raters, each member of the pair working independently. Interrater agreement was shown by correlations ranging from .90 to .99. Here we present only the first-quarter ratings, in the belief that it is in the first quarter that close bodily contact is of the most significance.

The second Main variable is providing the baby with unpleasant experience in physical contact: This scale dealt with the extent to which babies might be inferred to associate physical contact with the mother with unpleasant sensory experience. There was no outright child abuse observed in this sample, but nevertheless a rating of 9 was reserved for repeated experiences of a very unpleasant nature—the unpleasantness being inferred from the infant’s strong negative response of screaming and/or struggling. The kinds of maternal handling that were relevant here tended to be highly idiosyncratic, including uncomfortable holding, rough handling, obnoxious overstimulation, pinching, and force-feeding; but the ratings were not so much geared to the type of handling as to its frequency and degree. Except for the extreme rating of 9, an inference could be made of “unpleasant experience” whether or not the infant overtly protested. Ratings were done by two pairs of raters; interrater agreement ranged from .95 to .99. Again we present only first-quarter scores here.

Behavior Relevant to Face-to-Face Interaction. We are using three measures of maternal behavior in face-to-face interaction with the baby, and all of these were scored for the first quarter only. Contingent pacing—the percentage of face-to-face episodes in which the mother paced her interventions slowly and gently, modifying them in keeping with the infant’s cues and pausing if needed to allow him time to mobilize a response. Silent, unsmiling—the percentage of face-to-face episodes initiated by the mother in which she merely looked at him silently and impassively, rather than smiling or talking to him, or “jiggling” him. Routine manner—the percentage of face-to-face episodes in which the mother behaved in a “matter-of-fact” way—behavior more likely to occur during performance of routines such as changing than on nonroutine occasions.

Behavior Relevant to Infant Obedience. Only two measures fall into this class, and both of these pertain only to the fourth quarter. Frequency of verbal commands—the mean number of verbal commands and prohibitions issued by the mother per visit. Only commands judged to be comprehensible to a baby were recorded (e.g., “No! No!” or “Give it to me”), and only those instances were tallied in which the baby was given an opportunity to comply without physical intervention. Frequency of physical intervention—the mean number of discipline-oriented physical interventions by the mother per visit. These included all instances in which the mother physically reinforced verbal commands by (or in lieu of verbal commands) trying to force the baby to do as she wished—for example, by dragging him away from a forbidden area or slapping him when he reached for something she did not want him to have.

Behavior Relevant to Feeding. There are four first-quarter rating scales dealing with dimensions of maternal behavior relevant to feeding. Timing of feeding—concerned with the extent to which the mother synchronized her feeding interactions in accordance with the baby’s rhythms. Implicit in this scale is the hypothesis that the optimal timing is when the baby is awake, active, and hungry, but before he has reached a peak of hunger and crying. A rating of 9 was given when there was adaptation of timing to the baby’s behavioral signals, whether it came about through thoroughgoing and consistent demand feeding or sensitive and flexible schedule feeding. A rating of 1 was given when the intervention was very arbitrary—very badly geared to the baby’s rhythms and in almost complete disregard of his signals. Determination of the amount of food and the end of the feeding—concerned with the mother’s skill in perceiving the signal her baby gives when he is satisfied, gratifying him without giving him too much. The mother who receives a rating of 9 neither terminates a feeding abruptly when the baby stops feeding momentarily, nor coaxes him to take more when he seems not to wish to resume after she has waited a little. Mothers who received a rating of 1 terminate feedings in almost total disregard of the baby’s signals. Some force-feed after the baby has signaled termination or carry coaxing to the point that it is aversive; others terminate the feeding prematurely and impatiently, so that the baby gets far too little food.

Two other scales relevant to feeding are as follows. Handling of the baby’s preferences in food—this is pertinent only after “solid” foods have begun, although most mothers in this sample introduced them very early. A rating of 9 is given for great tact in presenting new or disliked foods, whereas a rating of 1 is given when the mother shows great disregard of the baby’s preferences, forcing food on him even when he protests vigorously. Synchronization of mother’s rate of feeding to the baby’s pace of intake—this reflects the degree to which the mother respects the baby’s autonomy and encourages him, to the extent that he is able, to take some initiative in the ingestion of food, both in suckling and in spoon-feeding. The mother receives a rating of 1 when she interferes unduly with the baby’s own pacing. She may forcibly remove the nipple if he drowses, or she may provide him with so fast a nipple that he tends to choke. She may force-feed solids, or she may feed too slowly and inattentively.

Throughout all of these scales it is acknowledged that babies differ in the kinds of signals they give, that it may take some time before a mother can learn to read the signals of her baby, and that an approximation of the optimal synchronization with the baby’s signals and rhythms requires a mutual adaptation. Nevertheless these ratings are included here as measures of maternal behavior because the mother, for better or for worse, has much more control than the baby over the whole feeding situation during the first few months.

General Maternal Characteristics. There are six measures included here, all of them nine-point scales. The first four are fourth-quarter scales. Sensitivity—insensitivity to the baby’s signals and communications is the first of these. The optimally sensitive mother is able to see things from her baby’s point of view. She is alert to perceive her baby’s signals, interprets them accurately, and responds appropriately and promptly, unless no response is the most appropriate under the circumstances. She tends to give the baby what he seems to want, and when she does not she is tactful in acknowledging his communication. Furthermore she makes her responses temporally contingent upon the baby’s signals. A mother receives a rating of 1 when she gears her interventions almost exclusively in terms of her own states, wishes, and activities. She tends to distort the message the baby is sending, interpreting it in the light of her own needs or defenses, or she does not respond to his signals at all.2 The second scale deals with acceptance-rejection—the balance between the mother’s positive and negative feelings about her baby and the extent to which she has been able to integrate or to resolve her conflicting feelings. A highly rejecting mother frequently feels angry and resentful toward her baby. She may grumble that he interferes unduly with her life, or she may show her rejection by constantly opposing his wishes or by a generally pervasive mood of scolding and irritation. A mother would be rated as 9, or highly accepting, when she accepts her infant even when he is angry or unresponsive. She may occasionally feel irritated by his behavior, but she does not cast him in the role of opponent. She cheerfully accepts the responsibility of her maternal role, without resenting the temporary limitation this places on her other activities.

A third scale dealing with general maternal characteristics is cooperation—interference. The highly interfering mother does not respect her baby’s autonomy and essential separateness. She tries to control him and to shape his behavior, or merely follows her own promptings without regard for his wishes or activity-in-progress. The highly cooperative mother respects her baby as a separate person and plans to avoid situations in which she might have to interfere with his activity or to exert direct control over him. When she does intervene, she is skillful at “mood-setting,” so that the baby is persuaded that he wants to do what she wants him to do. A fourth scale is accessibility—ignoring, which deals with the mother’s psychological accessibility to her infant when she is at home and in this sense physically accessible to him. The inaccessible or ignoring mother is often so preoccupied with her own thoughts and activities that she does not even notice her baby, let alone acknowledge his signals. She seems to notice him only when she deliberately turns her attention to do something to or for him. The accessible mother, on the other hand, seems able to attend to her baby’s signals and communications, despite distraction by other demands on her attention

These four dimensions were rated separately for each visit to each mother—infant pair at 39, 42, 45, 48, 54, and (when possible) 51 weeks. Five judges participated, working independently. Although two of the judges unavoidably had knowledge of other assessments, the other three did not. A schedule of rating was designed to eliminate the possibility of halo effect, both across variables and across visits to the same dyad. The mean interrater correlation coefficients for each of the scales are as follows: sensitivity—insensitivity .89, acceptance—rejection .88, cooperation-interference .86, and accessibility—ignoring .87. Discrepancies between ratings were decided in conference. The final rating was the conferenced rating, which was almost invariably the median rating for all visits rated.

The other two measures were devised by Mary Main, according to the hypothesis that they tapped variables particularly relevant to the mothers of mother-avoidant babies. Both took the form of nine-point rating scales similar to those previously described. Lack of emotional expression is a scale concerned with the degree to which a mother lacks emotional expression in her face, voice, or bodily movements, making possible descriptions such as: poker faced, wooden, overcontrolled, monotone, mechanical, robotlike. A rating of 9 was given to mothers who were described in the narrative report in terms such as these, the descriptions not referring to specific incidents or to a single visit but implying a general characteristic of the mother’s behavior. Main’s hypothesis is that extreme expressionlessness implies repression of strong feelings, especially angry feelings, and/or inhibition of expression of negative emotions. A rating of 5 was given for a moderate lack of emotional expression, as for example when a mother is bland, phlegmatic, or matter-of-fact, but offers no reason to infer repression of feeling. A rating of 1 would be given to a mother who expresses herself freely, whether the resulting behavior is tender, playful, or angry or some mixture of these and other tendencies. Because our observer-visitors had not been briefed to make note of emotional expression or lack thereof, the raters often had to rely on general summary descriptions rather than on episode-by-episode reports of behavior. Because of this, Main thought it wise for the judges to rate the cumulative impression of the narrative reports for the whole of the infant’s first year. Two judges independently rated each mother. Their interrater agreement was .88.

Finally, Main devised a scale of maternal rigidity. This variable rates the extent to which the mother is judged to be rigid, compulsive, and/or perfectionistic—not merely toward the baby, but toward other persons or “in general.” The first step in assessment was a scoring sytem that combined frequency with degree of intensity of rigidity, the details of which cannot be given here.3 The resulting scores were so greatly skewed that they were translated into ratings on a six-point scale in order to reduce the degree of spread between the most extremely rigid and the average nonrigid score. The original scoring was done by two coders working independently. As with the variable of nonexpressiveness, the score pertains to the first year as a whole, because the observer-visitors tended to comment at length on a rigid mother’s characteristic behavior in the report of one visit and then perhaps not make specific reference to it again for some time, as though they assumed, quite properly, that such behavior was not subject to daily variation.

Fourth-Quarter Maternal Behavior

Group Differences in Fourth-Quarter Maternal Behavior

The mean scores for the fourth-quarter behavior of mothers of babies in each of the three strange-situation classificatory groups are shown in Table 18. It may be seen that Group-A and Group-C mothers, especially the latter, delayed significantly longer than Group-B mothers in responding to infant crying. They also tended to ignore more crying episodes altogether, although these differences were not large enough to be significant. Another behavior that reflects responsiveness to the infant is frequency of the mother’s acknowledgment of the baby when she enters the room after an absence. Group-A mothers acknowledged their babies in a significantly smaller proportion of enter-room episodes than B mothers, and C mothers also tended to be less responsive than B mothers.

Mothers differed also in their behavior relevant to close, bodily contact with their babies. Group-B mothers were affectionate during bodily contact significantly more often than either A or C mothers. They were also more likely to be tender and careful in holding the baby than were A or C mothers, but the variability of this behavior in the fourth quarter was too great for the differences to be statistically significant. Earlier in the first year, tender, careful holding seemed to have an important influence on the baby (Blehar, Ainsworth, & Main, 1978), but by the time the baby is nine months old and relatively big, strong, competent, and mobile, even a mother who had previously been conspicuous for tender, careful holding may well increase the speed and vigor with which she handles the baby. Group-A mothers, significantly more frequently than B mothers, were abrupt and interfering when they picked up the baby.

TABLE 18 Behavior Displayed at Home by the Mothers of Infants in the Three Strange-Situation Groups (Mean Scores for the Fourth Quarter)

Group A

Group B

Group C

Maternal Behavior

N = 6

N = 13

N = 4

Responsiveness to Infant Crying

 Ignoring of crying (episodes per hour)




 Unresponsiveness to crying (minutes per hour)




Behavior Relevant to Separation/Reunion

 Acknowledging baby when entering room




Behavior Relevant to Close Bodily Contact

 % of pick-ups in which M behaves affectionately




 % of pick-ups that are abrupt or interfering




 % of holding time in which M is tender, careful




 % of holding time in which M is inept




 % of holding time occupied with routines




Behavior Relevant to Infant Obedience

 Frequency of verbal commands




 Frequency of physical interventions




General Characteristics (Ratings)

 Sensitivity—insensitivity to signals
















Note: significance of t test comparing Group B with Group A or Group C

a p < .10.

b p < .05.

c p < .01.

d p < .001.

Group-C mothers, significantly more than B mothers, devoted themselves to routine activities while holding the baby. Usually this implied holding the baby to feed him. The babies in this sample seemed eager during the fourth quarter to feed themselves—holding their own bottles, managing their own finger food, and at least sitting by themselves while being spoon-fed—and most of the mothers respected this budding self-reliance. The mothers who continued to hold their babies for either bottle-feeding or spoon-feeding tended to treat them like very young infants, and to resist any effort the baby made to feed himself. The babies who were treated thus tended to rebel, so that feedings were unhappy and occasions for struggle. Group-C mothers were also more often perceived as inept in their handling of the baby during close physical contact than either A or B mothers—perhaps in part because of their handling of the feeding situation. Group-A mothers also tended to be more inept than B mothers.

As for the behaviors relevant to infant obedience, there were no significant differences in the frequency of the mother’s verbal commands. Group-A mothers, however, tended more frequently than B mothers to intervene physically to back up their verbal commands.

It is in the rated general characteristics, however, that the sharpest intergroup differences emerge. It may be seen in Table 18 that mothers of Group-B infants tend to be substantially more sensitive, accepting, cooperative, and psychologically accessible to their babies than A or C mothers, who are significantly more insensitive, rejecting, interfering, and ignoring. It is the A mothers, however, who were especially rejecting, whereas the C mothers on the average received midscale ratings on acceptance—rejection.

There is an overlap between some of the ratings and the measures derived from coding of behaviors. Thus, for example, the measures of unresponsiveness to crying overlap with ratings of sensitivity—insensitivity to signals; and both interfering pick-ups and frequency of physical interventions in “command” situations overlap with the rating of cooperation—interference. We welcome the support that the coded measures give to the rated measures. The rated measures yield sharper differences, however. As Maccoby and Masters (1970) noted, ratings often yield higher correlations with criterion measures than do frequency measures based on behavioral records. It is the nature of frequency measures to give equal weight to each occurrence of a behavior, regardless of its strength, intensity, latency, or the nature of the activating circumstances. A well-constructed rating scale can take these other features into consideration, and thus—provided that measures are taken to avoid halo effects—ratings can yield a measure that, although more holistic, is less “noisy”.

In Chapter 7 we proposed the hypothesis that the avoidant behavior characteristic of Group-A babies in the strange situation was the outcome of a strong approach—avoidance conflict relevant to close bodily contact with the babies stemmed from the chronic frustration of proximity- and contact-seeking behavior implicit in the approach—avoidance conflict. The findings implicit in Table 18 contain some pointers that fit with these hypotheses. Mothers of A babies are more rejecting than other mothers, and this also implies that their positive feelings toward the baby are more frequently submerged by anger and irritation, according to the definition of rejection implicit in our acceptance—rejection scale. Mothers of A babies are more frequently interfering in their pick-ups, and more frequently use forcible physical interventions to back up their verbal commands. These findings imply that A babies more frequently find close bodily contact with their mothers to have unpleasant associations—an implication that is congruent with the notion of an approach—avoidance conflict relevant to physical contact. Congruent also is the finding that A mothers behave less affectionately when holding the baby than do B mothers. Further findings relevant to mother-avoidant babies are reported later in this chapter.

Correlations With Infant Discriminant-Function Scores

Table 19 shows the correlations between maternal behaviors and the two sets of discriminant-function scores assigned to infants on the basis of their strange-situation behavior. The findings are interesting in that they more clearly suggest differences between A and C mothers than did the findings reported in Table 18.

The coded behavior most characteristic of mothers of Group-A babies, in contrast with those of non-A babies, is picking the baby up in an abrupt and interfering manner. Especially infrequent among A mothers, in contrast with non-A mothers, is affectionate behavior while holding the baby. The behaviors most characteristic of mothers of Group-C babies, in contrast with those of non-C babies, are delay in responding to cry signals and occupying the time when holding the baby with routines. Also infrequent among C mothers is affectionate behavior during contact.

TABLE 19 Correlations of Maternal Fourth-Quarter Home Behaviors With Infant Strange-Situation Discriminant-Function Scores



Maternal Behavior



Responsiveness to Infant Crying

 Ignoring of crying (episodes per hour)



 Unresponsiveness to crying (minutes per hour)



Behavior Relevant to Separation/Reunion

 Acknowledging baby when entering room



Behavior Relevant to Close Bodily Contact

 % of pick-ups in which M behaves affectionately



 % of pick-ups that are abrupt or interfering



 % of holding time in which M is tender, careful



 % of holding time in which M is inept



 % of holding time occupied with routines



Behavior Relevant to Infant Obedience

 Frequency of verbal commands



 Frequency of physical interventions



General Characteristics (Ratings)

 Sensitivity—insensitivity to signals












a p < .05.

b p < .01.

In regard to all the rated measures, the correlations are significant and substantial with the first discriminant function, although not with the second. Thus the characteristics of A babies that discriminate them from B and C babies in the strange situation are more closely correlated with maternal insensitivity, interference, ignoring, and especially with rejection than are the characteristics of C babies that discriminate them from non-C babies.

First-Quarter Maternal Behavior

Group Differences in First-Quarter Maternal Behavior

Table 20 shows the mean scores of first-quarter behavior of the mothers of the babies in the three strange-situation classificatory groups. The significance of the difference between mothers of B and non-B babies was assessed by means of t tests, and the results are also shown in Table 20. The significance of the differences between mothers of A and C babies was also assessed by t tests.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the findings is that differences between B and non-B mothers were significant in 13 of 17 variables and reached a p level of less than .10 in 2 of the 4 nonsignificant variables. To be sure, there was a selection of variables for this analysis, but (except for the assessments provided by Mary Main) the selection was in terms of behaviors that had been proved significantly related to infant behavior at home either in the first or in later quarters. We have already pointed out that Main chose her variables in terms of theory-based hypotheses about behaviors that would discriminate Group-A mothers from Group-C mothers. The implication is that babies who differ qualitatively in their attachments to the mother at the end of the first year have mothers whose behavior and attitudes, as early as the baby’s first 3 months, differ in salient ways.

It may be seen from Table 20 that Group-B mothers were more promptly responsive to infant crying signals in the first quarter, whereas non-B babies were allowed to cry for longer periods unattended. Bell and Ainsworth (1972) interpreted their longitudinal findings in regard to infant crying and maternal responsiveness to indicate that mothers who were promptly responsive early on had babies who cried relatively little by the end of the first year, whereas mothers who delayed for relatively long times before responding to crying signals in the first quarter had babies who cried relatively much later on. The present findings expand that interpretation: Mothers who are promptly responsive to crying signals in the early months have babies who later become securely attached.

Maternal behavior and attitudes relevant to close bodily contact in the early months also are significantly associated with later quality of attachment as reflected in the strange-situation classification. Group-B mothers, in the first quarter, handled their babies tenderly and carefully for proportionately much more time than did non-B mothers. Earlier we pointed out that by the fourth

TABLE 20 Behavior Displayed at Home by Mothers of Infants in the Three Strange-Situation Classificatory Groups (Mean Scores for the First Quarter)

Maternal Behavior

Group A

Group B

Group C

Significance of Difference Between B and non-B

Responsiveness to Infant Crying

 Ignoring of crying





 Unresponsiveness to crying (minutes per hour)




<.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

Behavior Relevant to Close Bodily Contact

 Mean duration of a pick-up episode (in minutes)




<.10 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 % of pick-ups in which M behaves affectionately




<.05 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 % of holding time in which M is tender, careful




<.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 % of holding time in which M is inept




<.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 Aversion to physical contacta




<.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 Provides B with unpleasant experiencea




<.005 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

Behavior Relevant to Face-to-Face Interaction

 Contingent pacing




<.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 Silent, unsmiling initiation





 Routine manner




<.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

Behavior Relevant to Feeding

 Timing of initiationa




<.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 Timing of terminationa




<.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 Dealing with baby’s food preferencesa




<.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

 Pacing according to baby’s rate of intakea




<.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

General Characteristics

 Lack of emotional expressionb




<.02 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">





<.02 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

<.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.10 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.05 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.005 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.001 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.01 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.02 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt"><.02 style="padding:.75pt .75pt .75pt .75pt">

aRatings of first-quarter behavior.

b Ratings of behavior throughout the whole year.

quarter, when the infants had become sturdier, more active, and more competent, there was a decline in tender, careful holding behavior—and indeed such behavior that did occur was not significantly related with the quality of infant—mother attachment. In the early months, however, tender, careful handling could easily be interpreted as sensitive responsiveness to the baby’s behavioral signals in the context of physical contact. We suggest that a mother’s muting of her usual speed and vigor of movement and her sensitive response to the baby’s own bodily adjustments upon being picked up and held provides him with an initially secure experience of close bodily contact. In contrast, mothers of non-B babies, much more frequently than mothers of B babies, handled their infants ineptly in the first quarter. Affectionate behavior on the part of the mother was less common during the first quarter than was tender, careful behavior, and it had little relationship to the baby’s concurrent response to close bodily contact. Nevertheless it proved to be significantly related to the baby’s strange-situation behavior at the end of the first year.

Blehar, Ainsworth, and Main (1978) cite evidence suggesting that how much a mother holds her baby in the early months seems to be of far less significance than how she holds him—although this might not be the case in a sample including some infants who were grossly deprived of close bodily contact. Furthermore, the total time spent in holding seemed of less significance than the duration of the separate episodes of holding. There is a tendency for the mean duration of a pick-up episode in the first quarter to be associated with secure attachment at the end of the first year.

Clear support is found for Main’s two hypotheses relevant to physical contact in the findings presented in Table 20. Non-B mothers have a significantly stronger aversion to physical contact with their babies than B mothers. The findings clearly suggest that this effect is entirely attributable to the strong aversion that Group-A mothers feel and express, and indeed they differ very significantly from Group-C mothers in this regard (p < .0001). It must be emphasized that such aversion is only rarely expressed openly, and could well have been missed had the home visits not been long and frequent enough to encourage mothers to behave naturally. Even so, Group-A mothers gave their babies a total amount of physical contact that was not significantly less than given by the mothers of non-A babies. They believed that babies needed to be held (especially while being fed), and did so even though they themselves did not enjoy it. As may be seen, they also, on occasion, behaved tenderly and affectionately—even though they did so less often than B mothers. Our hypothesis is that the underlying aversion and implied rebuff nevertheless communicates itself to the baby. It is also clear that non-B mothers in the first quarter more frequently and intensely than Group-B mothers provide their babies with unpleasant, even painful, experiences associated with close bodily contact. This effect also tends to be attributable more to the A than to the C mothers, although the differences between them proved not to be statistically significant (p < .212) for first-quarter behavior. However, the same measure for the entire first year did prove to be statistically significant (p < .02).

Main’s other two hypotheses also gained some support. Mothers of non-B babies, in comparison with B mothers, tended to lack emotional expression when dealing with their babies. Again the effect seemed mainly attributable to the A mothers. Although they did not differ significantly from C mothers (p <.148), they="" did="" differ="" from="" b="" mothers="">p < .003), whereas C mothers did not. Mothers of non-B babies, in comparison with B mothers, tended to be rigid and perfectionistic. This effect likewise seemed attributable to the A mothers, who differed significantly from the B mothers (p < .01), although not from the C mothers.

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Group-B mothers were more likely than non-B mothers to pace their behavior in face-to-face situations in accordance with the tempo of the baby’s responses. They were less likely to behave in a matter-of-fact, “routine” manner when face-to-face with their babies.

In regard to each of the four variables relevant to the feeding situation, Group-B mothers were also more likely to gear their behavior to the baby’s signals than were non-B mothers. They tended to feed the baby rather than delaying when he gave signals implying hunger. They tended to terminate feeding only after the baby signaled that he was satisfied. They were tactful when presenting new foods. They carefully paced their feeding interventions to the baby’s rate of intake.

Summary and Discussion

The major implication of the findings reported in this chapter is that maternal behavior in both the first and the fourth quarters—and presumably in between also—is significantly associated with the security—anxiety dimension of an infant’s attachment relationship with his mother, and that this association is evident even in the first quarter of the first year. The most important aspect of maternal behavior commonly associated with the security—anxiety dimension of infant attachment is manifested in different specific ways in different situations, but in each it emerges as sensitive responsiveness to infant signals and communications. The highly significant differentiation between B and non-B mothers in the fourth quarter that is provided by a global measure of this variable occurs, we believe, because of the pervasive effect of this quality of maternal behavior throughout many specific kinds of interaction. This and correlated measures of maternal behavior thus do not reflect maternal behavior in absolute terms, but they do tap the extent to which a particular mother is able to gear her interaction with a particular baby in accordance with the behavioral signals he gives of his states, needs, and, eventually, of his wishes and plans.

Although the sensitive responsiveness of mothers to infant signals and communications seems to be the key variable in accounting for environmental influences on the development of a secure versus an anxious attachment relationship (i.e., Group B versus non-B), some progress has also been made toward identifying aspects of maternal behavior that are implicated in a baby’s developing an avoidant version of anxious attachment rather than a nonavoidant but perhaps resistant version (i.e., Group A versus Group C). So far, the four aspects of maternal behavior that are most closely associated with the avoidant solution are: (1) rejection; (2) especially rejection communicated through aberrant reactions to close bodily contact; (3) submerged anger; and (4) a generally compulsive kind of adjustment. Main (1977a) hypothesized that the relative lack of emotional expressiveness characteristic of Group-A mothers was attributable to an effort to control expressions of anger. Although the lack of expression has the consequence of withholding from the baby important feedback when in interaction with his mother—a consequence that may affect his own social development—it seems likely that it is the rejection implicit in the anger itself that affects the baby, despite his mother’s attempt to hold it in. The most obvious consequence of a generally compulsive kind of adjustment is that it makes the mother less often aware of infant signals and hence less responsive to them. However, it also may be implicated in rejection, for the rigid and compulsive mother is reluctant to give precedence to the baby’s needs and wishes, if only because she is so preoccupied with what is important to her outside of a purely motherly role.

Of all of these aspects, we are inclined to give major emphasis to interaction in the context of close bodily contact, if only because this seems most directly relevant to the origins in the baby of an approach—avoidance conflict about such contact. Although the findings yielded by a longitudinal study of Sample I have yielded much support for the account of the origins and dynamics of mother-avoidant behavior that we share with Main, it is too small a sample to yield wholly clear-cut distinctions. Main’s independent work with a group of toddlers drawn from Samples 3 and 4 provides further evidence in support of her hypotheses, however; this we examine in Chapter 9.


1 These 22 scales for rating first-quarter maternal behavior, as well as four scales for rating fourth-quarter maternal behavior, may be obtained in microfiche from the ETS Test Collection, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J. 08540. Ask for the System for Rating Maternal-Care Behavior (008053). Systems for Coding Infant Attachment and Reciprocal Maternal Behaviors (008054) is also available there.

2 This scale has been published in full in the chapter by Ainsworth, Bell, & Stayton, 1974.

3 The scoring system, as well as the scales devised by Dr. Mary Main, may be obtained from her—Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Calif. 94704.