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


In this chapter we address the issue of whether individual differences in strange-situation behavior are related to stable individual differences in behavior in the natural environment. Is the way a baby behaves in the strange situation significantly related to the way he characteristically behaves at home?

This issue can be examined for the 23 infants of Sample 1, who were among the subjects of an intensive, naturalistic study of mother—infant interaction throughout the first year of life. These infants and their mothers were observed at home in the course of 4-hour visits once every 3 weeks from 3 to 54 weeks of age. A responsive but noninterventive observer recorded a running account of the infant’s behavior, especially his behavior in interaction with other persons, and this record was subsequently transcribed into a narrative report. The narratives were subjected to several coding procedures to yield measures of behavior. The findings of most of these analyses have already been published. Those that developed measures used in this section are: Bell and Ainsworth (1972) on crying and communication; Stayton, Ainsworth, and Main (1973) on behavior relevant to mother’s leaving and entering the room; Stayton, Hogan, and Ainsworth (1971) on infant obedience to maternal commands; Ainsworth, Bell, and Stayton (1972) on behavior relevant to close bodily contact; and Blehar, Lieberman, and Ainsworth (1977) on behavior in face-to-face encounters. In addition, Main coded certain special forms of infant behavior relevant to close bodily contact, which had not been included in the earlier coding; she also coded infant behavior reflecting anger. The findings of Main’s codings have not yet been published.1 In this chapter we consider the relationship between strange-situation behavior and behavior during two periods of the first year—the fourth and first quarters.2 Before considering these findings, however, we must briefly define the measures of home behavior used here.

Measures of Home Behavior

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. (At 51 weeks the babies were observed in the strange situation. A home visit was also made at that time to some infants but not to all; so this visit was excluded from the fourth-quarter measures.) Individual first-quarter scores were the mean of the scores of the four 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.3 The measures are as follows:

Crying and Communication. Three measures were used. Frequency of crying—the number of crying episodes per infant’s waking hour. A crying episode refers to any instance of a vocal distress signal, whether protest, fuss, or full-blown cry. Duration of crying—the combined length of all crying episodes (excluding those too brief to be timed), expressed in minutes per infant’s waking hour. Communication—the subtlety, clarity, and variety of infants’ facial expression, bodily gesture, and vocalization as signals and communications, rated on a three-point scale. (Fourth quarter only.)

Responses to Mother’s Comings and Goings. Four measures were used, all in the fourth-quarter only. Crying when mother leaves room—the percentage of leave-room episodes (in which the mother had not put the baby down just before leaving, and in which she left him in company rather than alone) in which a baby began to cry or increased the intensity of his cry at the time of her departure or shortly thereafter. Crying included the silent cryface, as well as vocal protest, fussing, or full-blown crying. Following when mother leaves room—the percentage of leave-room episodes in which a baby, capable of locomotion and on the floor and free to follow, did in fact follow. He was judged to have followed only if he went spontaneously the full distance necessary to get into visual range of his mother, or as far as a barrier that prevented him from going farther. Positive greeting—the percentage of enter-room episodes in which a baby directed toward his mother the following behaviors singly or in combination: smiling, vocalizing, laughing, bouncing or jiggling, waving the arms, reaching toward her, leaning or straining toward her, and locomotor approach. Crying or mixed greeting—the percentage of enter-room episodes in which a baby cried, or if already crying increased the intensity of his crying upon his mother’s entrance, or, in the case of mixed greetings, both cried and positively greeted her either simultaneously or in rapid succession.

Behavior Relevant to Close Bodily Contact With the Mother. These include four classes of behavior, each of which was tapped by two or more measures.

1. Responses to being picked up and held. Positive response—the percentage of episodes in which the mother picked the baby up in which he responded positively. In the first quarter smiling and/or being described by the observer as “happy” were the criteria for scoring a positive response. In the fourth quarter the following responses, singly or in combination, were identified as positive: smiling, laughing, kissing, hugging, clinging, “sinking in,” exploring the mother’s face or person, burying the face against her, and any response described by the observer as “delighted.” Negative response— the percentage of pick-up episodes (undertaken by the mother) in which the infant’s response was negative, as shown by crying, stiffening, or squirming in the first quarter, and in addition by pushing away, hitting, or biting in the fourth quarter.

2. Responses to being put down. Positive—the percentage of episodes in which the mother put the baby down to which he responded positively; that is, he smiled or generally seemed content when contact with his mother was discontinued. Negative—the percentage of episodes in which the mother put the baby down in which he cried when put down, or, in the fourth quarter, made clear gestures that he wanted to be picked up again, such as reaching or clambering up.

3. Initiation and termination of physical contact. The two measures included here were used for the fourth quarter only. Initiation of pick-up—the percentage of pick-up episodes that were initiated by the baby; that is, the pick-up was preceded by his spontaneous reaching, locomotor approach, or clambering up, in the absence of any invitation by the mother. Initiation of put-down—the percentage of put-down episodes that were initiated by the baby, by squirming, pushing away, sliding down, or otherwise actively indicating that he wanted down.

4. Special forms of contact behavior. The three measures included here were defined by Mary Main and coded by her assistants, for the fourth quarter only. Tentative contact behaviors—the number of times in the quarter (corrected for variations in time of observation) that the baby used a tentative movement pattern in contacting his mother, such as touching, patting, or fingering, in lieu of (or in the absence of) close bodily contact. Sinking in—the number of times in the quarter (corrected for variations in time of observation) that the baby sank into the mother’s person while she held him, or cuddled in, or adjusted his posture in order comfortably to conform to the contours of her body. Active contact behavior—the number of times in the quarter (corrected for variations in time of observation) that the baby engaged in active, even rambunctious, contact behavior, affectionately banging on, pulling on, wrestling with, hugging, or kissing his mother.

Behavior When Face-to-Face With the Mother. These behavioral measures were scored only for the first quarter. Smiling—the percentage of face-to-face encounters with the mother (F/F) in which the baby smiled, either when initiating the interaction or when responding to his mother’s behavior. Vocalizing—the percentage of F/F encounters in which the baby gave a noncrying vocalization, either when initiating the interaction or when responding to his mother’s behavior. Bouncing—the percentage of F/F encounters in which the baby bounced, jiggled, or generally showed a marked increase of bodily activity. No response—the percentage of F/F encounters in which the baby made no response to his mother’s initiative, not even looking at her. Infant termination—the percentage of mother-initiated F/F encounters that the infant terminated by turning away or by starting to cry or fuss.

Compliance and Anger. The two behavioral measures included here were scored for the fourth quarter only. Compliance to mother’s commands—the percentage of mother’s verbal commands (such as “No!” “No!” “Don’t touch!” “Come!” “Sit!” or “Give it to me!”) with which the baby complied. Anger—Infants were rated on a nine-point scale devised by Mary Main for the extent to which anger appeared to direct their moods and activities.

Finally, it should be emphasized that the preceding list of measures constitutes a nearly complete list of all the measures developed and examined in the several component segments of data analysis of infant behavior at home. The few that were omitted either were highly redundant with measures included or dealt with behaviors manifested by a very small proportion of infants in the sample. In short, we have not edited our presentation of findings in such a way as to omit measures that do not relate to strange-situation patterns.

Fourth-Quarter Home Behavior

Correlations with Strange-Situation Behaviors

The strange-situation measures used in this analysis were: proximity/contact seeking, contact maintaining, avoidance, resistance, a combined score of avoidance and resistance, and crying. Except for crying, the scores were based entirely on the reunion episodes, and combined the scores for Episodes 5 and 8. The crying score used here combined scores from all episodes. All of the aforementioned fourth-quarter measures of infant behavior at home were included in the matrix, except for compliance to mother’s commands and infant communication—variables that had no apparent counterparts among the strange-situation variables. The intercorrelation matrix is shown in Table 15. (Table 15 also lists correlations of home behaviors with discriminant function scores—see Chapter 6. These are considered in another section.)

TABLE 15 Correlations Between Fourth-Quarter Home Behavior and Strange-Situation Measures

Table 15 Correlations Between Fourth-Quarter Home Behavior and Strange-Situation Measures
Table 15a Correlations Between Fourth-Quarter Home Behavior and Strange-Situation Measures

Let us deal first with a negative finding: In contrast with what might be assumed by those unfamiliar with our work, crying in the strange situation was not significantly correlated with any of the measures of home behavior in the fourth quarter. Because nearly all strange-situation crying is relevant to separation distress, the implication is that distress attributable to the brief separations from the mother that take place in the unfamiliar environment of the laboratory is not significantly related to the frequency or duration of distress experienced at home, either in relation to separation or otherwise. Those infants who are most frequently distressed by brief, everyday separations in the home environment are not necessarily those who show the greatest distress upon separation in the strange situation. If characteristic behavior at home may be taken as the criterion, crying in the strange situation is not a dependable indication of the quality of an infant’s attachment to his mother. To be sure, distress when separated from a specific figure is a clear indication that the infant has become attached to that figure. Yet absence of such distress in very brief separations cannot be taken to mean that an infant is not attached to the figure who departed.

Crying in the home environment, including crying when the mother leaves the room, is most closely related to resistant behavior in the reunion episodes of the strange situation. Other responses to separation and reunion at home bear little relationship to behavior in the strange situation.

Two measures relating to physical contact are significantly related to four of the five measures of strange-situation reunion behavior—responding positively to being picked up and held by the mother at home, and “sinking in.” These are positively correlated with proximity/contact seeking and contact maintaining in the strange situation, and negatively correlated with both avoidance and the composite score of “negative” (i.e., avoidant and resistant) behaviors. On the other hand, responding negatively at home to being picked up and held is significantly related only to the composite score of negative behaviors in the strange situation.

One of the two highest coefficients in the matrix is that between a positive response to being put down at home and the composite score of negative strange-situation behaviors—and the correlation is in the negative direction. Similarly a cheerful response to being put down is negatively related to mother-avoidance in the reunion episodes. Responding adversely (negatively) at home to being put down is positively related to avoidance in the strange situation, and also to the composite score of negative behaviors. Another measure with a similar pattern of correlations is tentative contact behavior at home; it is not only significantly correlated with avoidance and the composite of avoidance and resistance in the strange situation, but also negatively correlated with proximity/contact seeking. These findings are quite incompatible with any attempt to interpret avoidance of the mother in the strange situation either as an indication of greater maturity and independence of the mother or as being due simply to a greater genuine interest in exploratory play. At home, as Ainsworth, Bell, and Stayton (1972) have reported, the babies who enjoy close bodily contact with their mothers tend to respond cheerfully to being put down, and tend then to move off directly into independent exploratory play, whereas the babies who responded adversely to close bodily contact tend to object to being put down and are then less likely to move off into independent activity. Yet it is the latter who tend to be avoidant in the strange situation.

Finally, the infant anger measure is noteworthy for its high correlations with strange-situation behavior. It is negatively correlated with proximity/contact seeking in the strange situation, but positively correlated both with avoidance and with the composite score of negative strange-situation behaviors. The implication is that babies who avoid their mothers in the reunion episodes of the strange situation are characteristically angry with their mothers.

It is clearly the “negative” behaviors in the strange situation, either avoidance or resistance or both, that are most strongly related to behavior at home. These negative behaviors are noteworthy because they are most strongly activated in the very episodes that also most strongly activate proximity-seeking and contact-maintaining behaviors in most infants. Later we develop the thesis that resistant and avoidant behaviors directed toward the mother in the strange situation reflect conflict in the infant—mother relationship, with a tendency for any strong instigation to attachment behavior also to activate those behaviors that are seemingly antithetical to it. In the present context, however, we merely wish to draw attention to a factor analysis of fourth-quarter infant behaviors displayed at home, reported by Stayton and Ainsworth (1973). The first factor was interpreted as representing a security versus anxiety dimension of the infant—mother attachment relationship. The measures with the highest loadings were crying when mother leaves the room and frequency and duration of crying in general. These are the very measures that are most closely associated with resistance to the mother in the reunion episodes of the strange situation. Therefore we suggest that such resistance reflects anxious attachment to the mother. Factor II was clearly related to response to close bodily contact. Avoidance of the mother in the reunion episodes of the strange situation is significantly related to behaviors relevant to close physical contact. We develop the argument that avoidant behavior reflects an approach—avoidance conflict in specific relation to close bodily contact with the mother.

Correlation with Discriminant-Function Scores

It will be recalled (from Chapter 6) that Discriminant Function I served mainly to discriminate Group A from the other two groups, and that Discriminant Function II provided discrimination between Group C and, especially, Group B. A score for each of these functions was calculated for each infant, and these were correlated with the measures of fourth-quarter home behavior. The findings are shown in Table 15. (It should be pointed out again that Group-A infants fell toward the negative pole of DF I, and Group-C infants toward the negative pole of DF II. Therefore the signs of the correlation coefficients are to be interpreted thus: Variables with a negative correlation with DF I are characteristic of Group A; those with a negative correlation with DF II are characteristic of Group C; and those positively correlated with either function are roughly characteristic of Group B.)

It may be seen that there are six significant correlations between the first discriminant-function scores and home behavior, and five of them clearly involve behavior relevant to close bodily contact. Positively related to DF I, and by inference characteristic of Group-B infants in distinction to Group-A infants, are a positive response to being held, relatively frequent incidence of “sinking in,” and active behaviors when in close bodily contact. Negatively related to DF I, and by inference characteristic of Group-A infants, are a negative response to being put down and tentative contact behaviors, both of which we interpret as implying conflict about close contact with the mother. The behavior most highly correlated with DF I, however, is anger (r = −.79), which is, by inference, characteristic of Group-A infants.

There are six significant correlations between DF II and home behavior. Of these the three highest (all negative) are crying when the mother leaves the room, and the two measures of crying in general. By inference these are characteristic of Group-C infants. Positively correlated with DF II, and by inference characteristic of Group B in distinction to Group C, are modes of noncrying communication, following when the mother leaves the room, and positive response to being put down.

Difference Between Strange-Situation Groups

Table 16 shows the mean scores of each of the three strange-situation classificatory groups on measures of infant behavior at home in the fourth quarter. It may be seen that the means for Group B differ from the means of the other two groups in a regular way. In the case of 16 of the 18 variables, the Group-B means are either higher than or lower than the means of both Group A and Group C. (The exceptions are following when the mother leaves the room and tentative contact behaviors.) This general finding highlights the fact that Groups A and C resemble each other in regard to most home behaviors more closely than either resembles Group B. This finding seems paradoxical in view of the fact that the strange-situation behavior of Groups A and C differs strikingly; the paradox is discussed later.

Group B differed significantly from Group A in regard to 10 of the variables, and from Group C in regard to 13. These findings support the proposition that behaviors in the strange situation enable one to discriminate among infants who differ significantly from one another in regard to behaviors characteristic of their relations with their mothers at home. Babies who can be grouped together on the basis of their strange-situation behaviors also tend to resemble one another in behavior at home.

TABLE 16 Measures of Behavior Displayed at Home by Infants in the Three Strange-Situation Classificatory Groups (Mean Scores for the Fourth Quarter)

Group A

Group B

Group C

Behavior at Home

N = 6

N = 13

N = 4

Crying and Communication

 Frequency of crying (episodes per hour)




 Duration of crying (minutes per hour)








Responses to Mother’s Comings and Goings

 Crying when M leaves room




 Following when M leaves room




 Positive greeting when M enters




 Crying and mixed greeting




Behavior Relevant to Contact

I. Responses to being picked up and held

 Positive response to being held




 Negative response to being held




II. Responses to being put down

 Positive response to being put down




 Negative response to being put down




III. Initiation and termination

 Initiation of pick-up




 Initiation of put-down




IV. Special forms of contact behavior

 Tentative contact behaviors




 Sinking in




 Active contact behaviors




Compliance and Anger

 Compliance to mother’s commands








a p < .05.

b p < .01.

c p < .001.

Crying and Communication. It may be seen that Group-B babies cried less at home throughout the last quarter of the first year than either A or C babies. The differences in duration of crying are significant, although the differences in frequency of crying are not. Group-C infants cried relatively longer than the others, both at home and in the strange situation. Group-A babies cried little in the strange situation; yet at home they cried more than the Group-B babies. Bell and Ainsworth (1972) reported negative correlations between crying (both frequency and duration) and level of noncrying communication. Group-B babies not only cried less but also had clearer, more varied, and yet more subtle modes of noncrying communication than did the other two groups—significantly more than Group-C babies, especially.

Responses to Mother’s Comings and Goings. Similar trends hold for responses to everyday separations and reunions at home. Group-B infants showed significantly less frequent distress when mother left the room than either A or C infants. Group-C babies showed the most separation distress both at home and in the strange situation. Group-A babies, who showed little or no distress in the separation episodes of the strange situation, were more frequently distressed than B babies in separation situations at home. It will be recalled that search behavior in the separation episodes of the strange situation did not significantly discriminate among groups. The equivalent measure of home behavior is following when the mother leaves the room. Group-C babies followed significantly less often at home than did B babies, whereas A and B babies did not differ significantly. Indeed, A infants followed slightly more frequently than B infants. These findings clearly negate the notion that A babies did not protest separation in the strange situation because they were not attached to their mothers or because they were relatively weakly attached. At home they unequivocally showed both the distress when mother departed and the following to regain proximity to her that are usually, and properly, believed to indicate that an attachment has been formed. Group-B babies, significantly more frequently than either A or C babies, gave the mother a positive greeting when she returned after a brief absence. Less frequently than either A or C babies they cried when greeting the mother upon her return (or mingled crying with positive greeting), although the difference was statistically significant only when comparing their behavior with that of C babies.

Behavior Relevant to Physical Contact. Group-B infants, significantly more often than either A or C infants, responded positively when held by their mothers at home, and significantly less frequently responded negatively to being held. This finding is paralled by the strange-situation findings; in the strange situation, B babies sought to gain and maintain proximity and contact more strongly in the reunion episodes than did A babies, whereas C babies, who also sought proximity and contact, did so with less active initiative and sometimes with the simultaneous presence of resistant behaviors.

In the familiar home environment, Group-B babies were usually content to be put down after being held—significantly more frequently than C babies. Significantly less often than either A or C infants they protested being put down or tried to reinstitute contact. The finding that a positive response to being held is associated with acceptance of cessation of contact was discussed earlier. The apparent independence of the mother manifested by A babies in the strange situation is associated with avoidance; at home A babies are less frequently ready than B babies to cheerfully accept being put down, and by inference are less ready to shift to independent activity. In the strange situation, however, it was the Group-B babies who were conspicuous for contact-maintaining behavior in the reunion episodes—behavior distinguished by protest on being put down and especially active efforts to resist release and to reinstitute contact. It is suggested that separation in the unfamiliar environment activated attachment behavior to a higher pitch of intensity than did usual events in the home environment, so that infants not only sought contact more strongly but also sought to maintain it more actively and for a longer period than they ordinarily did at home.

In the familiar environment of the home, babies tended relatively infrequently to initiate either being picked up or put down, especially the latter. Nevertheless Group-B babies initiated being picked up more frequently than the babies of the other groups, and significantly more frequently than Group-C babies.

The three measures of special forms of contact behavior were added to the measures of home behavior by Mary Main in the expectation that they would differentiate mother-avoidant babies (i.e., Group A) from babies of the other groups. Indeed they tend to do so. Group-A babies significantly less often than Group-B babies “sank in” or showed “active contact behaviors” while being held by their mothers. Main’s hypothesis about tentative contact behaviors was not supported, however; although some A babies were conspicuous for such behaviors, others were not, and thus the difference between Groups A and B was not statistically significant. Of the three special forms of contact behavior, one—sinking in—significantly distinguished A from C babies (p < .03).

Compliance and Anger. Main also assessed infant anger in the expectation that Group-A infants would emerge as more frequently angry than either B or C babies. This hypothesis was supported, in that C babies, despite being more overtly angry in the strange situation than the A babies, were significantly less angry at home (p < .04). Furthermore, Group-B infants at home were significantly less angry than infants of either Groups A or C. Finally, Group-B infants were conspicuous for their compliance with their mothers’ verbal commands, obeying in 81% of the instances in which commands were issued, and were significantly more often obedient than the infants of either Groups A or C.

One further comparison was made of the three strange-situation classificatory groups in regard to home behavior—in terms of the balance between attachment and exploratory behavior in the home environment (Ainsworth, Bell, & Stayton, 1971). Because this analysis features differences among the subgroups, however, discussion of it is deferred until Chapter 12.

Let us now discuss in more detail the seemingly paradoxical behavior of the Group-A babies. A detailed analysis of their behavior at home led to the interpretation that they had developed a long-standing and pervasive approach—avoidance conflict relevant to close bodily contact with their mothers (Main, 1977a; Blehar et al., 1978). This proposition implies that their attachment behavior was activated by the same kinds of conditions, and to the same degree, as usual for their age-peers, so that they tended on occasion to seek proximity and contact, but that their previous experience had been such that close bodily contact—or even the anticipation thereof—activated avoidance behavior. (We consider the kind of previous experience that is common to Group-A babies in Chapter 8.)

At home the conflict between these two behavioral systems was manifested in a variety of subtle ways. Group-A babies tended to make a partial approach to the mother, then to halt, and then either to retreat or veer off in another direction. If their approach succeeded in bringing them near to the mother, they tended not to seek actual contact; if they touched her they were likely merely to touch her momentarily before withdrawing, and they were most likely to touch a peripheral part of her body—for example, her foot. If, nonetheless, they did achieve close bodily contact—either through clambering up or because the mother picked them up—they rarely responded positively (only in 11% of pick-up episodes), and were very unlikely either to show active contact behavior or to sink in, comfortably relaxed against the mother’s body. Nonetheless, when put down they were more likely than infants of other groups to protest or to signal to be picked up again. Behaviors such as these give a very clear picture of conflict between antithetical behavior systems. (Indeed, avoidance itself suggests the presence of conflict, but we defer discussion of this assertion until Chapter 14.)

The presence of an approach—avoidance conflict implies that fear behavior may be involved in the conflict. It is perhaps not so obvious that angry behavior may also be involved. Yet if attachment behavior is chronically prevented from reaching its appropriate terminating conditions, it is reasonable to infer that anger is activated by the frustration implicit in these circumstances. Indeed, anger was found to occur significantly more frequently among Group-A babies than in babies of either of the other two groups. It must be pointed out, however, that the baby’s angry behavior was rarely manifested in a direct attack on the mother, but in more subtle ways—for example, attack redirected toward physical objects or occasionally by biting or hitting the mother for no apparent reason and without the slightest indication of overt anger. Not only attachment behavior but also angry behavior tends to be inhibited by the approach—avoidance conflict.

These considerations pave the way for our interpretation of the strange-situation behavior of A babies. We propose that their attachment behavior was strongly activated in the separation episodes. This proposition is supported by the fact that they tended to search for their mothers as strongly as, and in some instances more strongly than, non-A babies, even though they tended to cry little or not at all. When the mother reappeared in the reunion episodes, it may be assumed that their attachment behavior was still at an unusually high level of activation, but the mother’s presence also activated avoidant behavior, perhaps all the more strongly because of the high level of activation of attachment behavior. Subgroup-A2 babies dramatically acted out their conflict by alternating approach and avoidance behavior, but even they—and, more conspicuously, the A1 babies who seemed steadfast in ignoring the mother—turned to exploratory behavior, a third behavioral system that was also strongly activated in the strange situation as demonstrated in Episode 2. Under these circumstances, exploratory behavior serves as what ethologists call a “displacement behavior”—a conspicuous and readily available item of the behavioral repertoire that comes to the fore when two momentarily stronger behavioral systems are antithetical and block each other, as, for example, when a bird equally instigated to attack and to flee merely preens his feathers.

As for C babies, there also appears to be some conflict in regard to close bodily contact with their mothers. Like A babies they tend at home more frequently than B infants to respond negatively to being held and yet to respond negatively to being put down, but in this case, behavior in the strange situation is continuous with home behavior. In the strange situation the behavior of some C infants reflects conflict between wanting close bodily contact in the reunion episodes and, at the same time, resisting it. This is reminiscent of classical ambivalence. Some C babies, however, seemed to show their resistance more to their mother’s efforts to interest them again in exploratory play; they wanted close contact and angrily resisted their mothers’ efforts to interest them in a toy. Our hunch is that it is not so much that Group-C babies find close bodily contact with the mother aversive or disappointing (as is the case with A babies), but that they tend to distrust the mother’s accessibility and responsiveness—that is, they are anxious in their relationship with her. Consequently, both at home and in the strange situation, they want more assurance of the mother’s availability and responsiveness than do B babies, and probably more than their mothers are ordinarily able or willing to provide. Thus the problem of the C baby is one of getting more response—and perhaps especially more close bodily contact—than the mother is prepared to give, whereas the problem of the A baby is that he both wants and avoids such close contact. The C baby fears that he will not get enough of what he wants; the A baby fears what he wants. There is a difference.

Fourth-Quarter Developmental Quotients

Approximately every 9 weeks throughout the course of the first year, the Griffiths Scale of Infant Intelligence was administered to the infants in Sample 1. Although not of the same order as the other findings reported in this chapter—which were all measures directly pertinent to mother—infant interaction—it is convenient here to report the findings for test scores obtained in the fourth quarter. The mean for Group-A infants was 109.6, for Group-B infants 118.7, and for Group-C infants 106.9. Although the differences between the groups are not large enough—and the intragroup variability too large—to be statistically significant in this small sample, they clearly suggest that the Group-A infants are not more advanced in development than the infants of other groups. Therefore, it is not possible to interpret their relative lack of proximity seeking in the strange situation as reflecting greater “maturity” or more advanced cognitive development, as has sometimes been suggested. Likewise, B1 and B2 infants, who also show relatively little proximity seeking, cannot be judged more advanced in development, for their mean DQ is 118.0, whereas that of the B3 subgroup is 119.0.


In summary, Group-B infants at home were conspicuous for little crying, infrequent separation distress, frequent positive greetings (and infrequent negative or mixed greetings) upon reunion, frequent initiation of close bodily contact, positive response to it once achieved, and yet positive response to cessation of such contact. In addition, B babies tended to have better-developed modes of communication than non-B babies, to be more compliant to the mother’s wishes, and to be less frequently angry. In contrast, the infants of both A and C groups were characterized by relatively more crying in general, more separation distress, disturbances related to close bodily contact with the mother, and more anger.

We have already referred to the factor analysis of fourth-quarter home behavior of this sample, conducted by Stayton and Ainsworth (1973). This, together with the other considerations discussed above, leads us to interpret the strange-situation classifications as indicating that B babies have relatively secure attachment relationships with their mothers in comparison with A and C babies. Although both A and C babies may be described as anxious in their attachment to the mother, it is clear that they differ in the ways in which they manifest their anxieties—especially in situations, such as the strange situation, that activate attachment behavior at high intensity. We have also suggested that the source of the disturbance is different for Groups A and C. Whereas in C babies the source of the disturbance lies in the discrepancy between what they want and what they expect to receive, in A babies there seems to be a more basic conflict between the kind of comfort and reassurance that they want and are prompted to seek, and a fear or at least an avoidance of just that. Both A and C babies may be classed as anxiously attached; A babies are, in addition, more fundamental conflict than C babies.

First-Quarter Home Behavior

Differences Between Strange-Situation Groups

In view of the fact that Group-B babies differed significantly from A and/or C babies in their fourth-quarter behavior at home, it is of interest to see to what extent differences occurred even earlier in the first year. Here we explore for differences in regard to home behavior in the first quarter. The roster of behavioral measures is shorter in the first than in the fourth quarter, however. It is too early for infants to respond to a person leaving or entering the room, to show active initiative in being picked up and put down, or indeed to show the special forms of contact behavior that were examined in regard to fourth-quarter behavior. Furthermore, it is too early for babies to be active enough for their behavior to be controlled by verbal commands, or for angry responses to be differentiated from distress. We consider only frequency and duration of crying, responses to being picked up and put down by their mothers, and behavior in response to face-to-face encounters with their mothers. Indeed, these three situations—episodes of crying, physical contact, and face-to-face interaction—account for most occasions for interaction between a baby and his mother in the earliest months. The only other common occasion for interaction is feeding, and this is largely comprehended by the three situations just mentioned.

In the previous section of this chapter it was apparent that, despite their striking differences in strange-situation behavior, babies in Groups A and C differed from each other less in their fourth-quarter behavior at home than they did from babies classified in Group B. It seems reasonable to assume that behaviors characteristic of Groups A and C would be even less differentiated from each other in the first quarter than they were in the fourth. Indeed, this proved to be the case. None of the differences between the means of Group A and Group C shown in Table 17 proved to be significant. If, however, we consider the differences between Group B and Groups A and C combined, some of the differences are significant. A and C babies, who by the end of the first year were identified as anxiously attached, cried longer and more frequently than B babies, who later were identified as securely attached. Bell and Ainsworth (1972) pointed out, however, that both frequency and duration measures of infant crying are confounded with measures of maternal responsiveness to crying within any given time period. Therefore, it seems likely to us that these significant differences between groups are attributable not so much to initial constitutional differences among the infants as to differences in maternal behavior, which we examine in Chapter 8. Thus if a mother is quick to respond to crying, that particular cry tends to be quickly terminated; moreover, the nature of the response may well tend to reduce the likelihood of another cry for some time. If a mother is slow to respond, the baby tends to continue crying until she does respond, and if he does indeed stop spontaneously without her intervention, he may very well cry again soon. Therefore, we are inclined to view the differences in first-quarter crying between Group B and the combined Group A/C as reflecting differences in maternal responsiveness to crying. By the fourth quarter, however, Bell and Ainsworth suggest that amount of crying has become a fairly stable infant characteristic, and therefore the confounding of measures that concerned us about first-quarter behavior is less pertinent.

TABLE 17 Measures of Behavior Displayed at Home by Infants in the Three Strange-Situation Classificatory Groups (Mean Scores for the First Quarter)

Group A

Group B

Group C

Significance of Difference Between B and A/C

Behavior at Home

N = 6

N = 13

N = 4


 Frequency (episodes per hour)





 Duration (minutes per hour)





Behavior Relevant to Physical Contact

 Positive response to being held





 Negative response to being held





 Positive response to put-down





 Negative response to put-down





Behavior in Face-to-Face With Mother
















 No response





 Terminates face-to-face encounter





Measures of behavior relevant to physical contact are not similarly confounded. Therefore, it is of interest that Group-B infants more frequently than A/C infants responded positively to being held, and less frequently responded negatively to being put down—just as they were found to do in the fourth quarter. We are inclined to rule out the possibility of constitutional differences in “cuddliness” in this sample, because all infants were found to be capable of a positive response to being held—at least when held by the visitor if a positive response had not been observed toward the mother. In the light of the finding that A babies are in conflict about contact later on, it is of particular interest here that A and B babies differed very little in regard to negative response to contact in the first quarter. In the first quarter a positive response to being put down was uncommon in any group, although it was somewhat more frequent (insignificantly so) among Group-B infants.

In regard to behavior in face-to-face encounters with the mother, Group-B babies were more positively responsive—smiling, vocalizing, and bouncing more frequently—than A/C babies, although the differences fell short of statistical significance. Significantly less often, however, did B babies make no response to the mother’s attempts to initiate face-to-face interaction—that is, not even looking at her—and significantly less often did they take the initiative in terminating the face-to-face encounter by either crying or looking away.

We undertook another analysis of our early face-to-face interaction data, sharpening the distinctions in regard to later attachment patterns by considering Subgroup B3 in contrast to Groups A and C combined, with B1/B2 babies forming an intermediate group (Blehar, Lieberman, & Ainsworth, 1977). In this analysis the data base was also extended to include four rather than just three visits—including the visit at 15 months in addition to those at 6, 9, and 12 months. The differences between B3 and A/C babies in regard to smiling and bouncing were significant in this comparison, and fussing was also significantly different, A/C infants fussing more than B3 infants when face-to-face with their mothers.

The chief reason for mentioning the Blehar, Lieberman, and Ainsworth report here, however, is the interesting information it contains about the relationship of later attachment quality to early differences in responsiveness to attachment and nonattachment figures. A comparison was made between behavior to the mother and to the visitor-observer. B3 infants vocalized and bounced significantly more in the presence of the mother than of the visitor in face-to-face encounters, whereas they merely looked at the visitor more frequently and more frequently terminated the episodes in which the visitor was involved. In contrast, the A/C babies showed no difference in responsiveness to the two figures, except for fussing, which was more frequently directed to the mother. These findings cannot be attributed to the fact that A/C babies were simply less socially responsive, because they were as responsive to the visitor as were the B3 infants. The findings therefore suggest that babies who are later conspicuous for a secure attachment relationship with the mother—that is, B3 babies—are during a very early period of life differentially responsive to an attachment figure in contrast with a nonattachment figure during face-to-face encounters, whereas infants who are later conspicuous for an anxious attachment relationship—that is, A and C babies—are not.4

Although it is not feasible here to cite similar differences in second- and third-quarter behavior in regard to any of the measures considered in this chapter, these first-quarter findings should suffice to suggest that babies who later may be described as securely attached to their mothers have had a long history of interaction with their mothers in which they were more often positively responsive and less often distressed or unresponsive than were babies who later can be described as anxiously attached. To be sure—as is shown in Chapter 8—mothers of the babies in different groups may also be distinguished from one another along much the same lines. We do not attempt to argue here that the mother has a greater effect on the baby than vice versa; we merely argue that the infant’s behavior in interaction with his mother forms a basis for distinguishing B from A/C groups, in several aspects, as early as the first quarter of the first year.

Summary and Discussion

We have shown that 1-year-olds, classified into three groups on the basis of patterning of their behavior in the strange situation, may also be distinguished in terms of the behavior they display in interaction with their mothers in the familiar home environment. In particular, Group-B infants differ from Group-A and Group-C infants—the latter being less conspicuously different in their behavior at home than either are from Group-B infants.

Furthermore, specific classes of strange-situation behavior correlate significantly with specific classes of behavior at home. This does not imply that there is a one-to-one correspondence between strange-situation behaviors and home behaviors. Thus, an infant who cries relatively often at home may cry little or not at all in the strange situation; an infant who shows very little distress in brief, everyday separations at home is likely to show substantial distress when briefly separated in the unfamiliar laboratory situation. The laboratory situation, with its strong and repeated instigations to attachment behavior, elicits different behaviors to different degrees of intensity than are commonly displayed in the home environment. Nevertheless, the findings here reported suggest that one can establish a fair basis for predicting strange-situation behavior from home behavior and, perhaps more important, that one can assess certain general aspects of the infant’s characteristic relationship with his mother from his behavior in the strange situation.

It is reasonable to conclude that the security—anxiety dimension of the infant’s relationship with his mother is reflected in strange-situation behavior as it is in behavior at home. Evidence has been presented that suggests that certain patterns of behavior in the strange situation also reflect the nature and degree of certain conflicts an infant may long have been experiencing in his relations with his mother. The behaviors serving as the most conspicuous “pointers” to such conflicts are avoidant and resistant behaviors in relation to the mother in the strange situation, especially avoidance.

Nevertheless, no single strange-situation behavior, and indeed no list of behaviors considered separately, is adequate to describe the relationship with stable patterns displayed at home. It is the patterning of behaviors in the strange situation that “matches” the patterning of behaviors at home. Consequently, we conclude that the comparison of strange-situation and home behavior provides justification for viewing the strange-situation classificatory system as having continuing usefulness, and not merely as having being useful as an methodological step toward identification of dimensions of behavior that might then be assessed independently.


1 Particularly interested in the differences between Group-A infants and infants of the other strange-situation classificatory groups, Mary Main and some of her students have conducted additional analyses of the longitudinal home-visit data we collected for Sample 1, devising coding and/or rating systems for variables that she hypothesized to be likely to discriminate Group-A infants (and their mothers) from others. We are very appreciative of these additional analyses that she undertook on her own initiative, for they do indeed help to cast light on the dynamics of the development of babies who avoid their mothers in the strange situation. The results of these analyses are presented and discussed in Blehar, Ainsworth, and Main (1978). In the meantime we thank Mary Main for her permission for us to use her findings in this chapter.

2 The first- and fourth-quarter comparisons are offered as samples of the kinds of relationships to be found between strange-situation behavior and home behavior. We are not including second- and third-quarter comparisons for three reasons: (1) they would be largely redundant with the comparisons we do present; (2) to include them might kindle the reader’s interest in the nature of developmental changes in attachment behavior observed at home, but to present developmental data and to discuss the issues raised by them would unduly lengthen and complicate this report; and (3) we wish to present the detailed developmental data referring to behavior in the home environment, and to discuss the issues relevant to them, in other publications that will focus on them rather than on patterns of behavior in the strange situation and their significance.

3 Blehar, Lieberman, & Ainsworth (1977) based their rerport on data from the visit at 15 weeks, in addition to those at 6, 9, and 12 weeks.

4 Here we have omitted reference to the intermediate group of four B1/B2 infants. They were indeed intermediate between B3 and A/C in regard to most of the measures, but the group was too small for differences to be statistically significant.