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Model Answer for Question 12 Paper 1: AS Psychology, June 2016 (AQA)

AS, A-Level

Last updated 15 May 2017

Section C - Attachment

12 Discuss the Strange Situation as a way of assessing types of attachment. [12 marks]

Suggested Answer: Ainsworth devised an observation called the strange situation to measure types of attachment. The Strange Situation involves placing a child in a controlled environment, whereby they would be observed under a series of different situations, with each episode lasting three minutes. The purpose of the Strange Situation is to measure four key behaviours, including: exploration behaviours – how the child explores the environment and whether they use the mother as a safe base; separation anxiety – how the child responds to/behaves when the mother leaves the room; stranger anxiety – how the child responds in the presence of a stranger; and reunion behaviours – how the child acts when reunited with their mother. Depending on how the child responds in the strange situation, Ainsworth classified the children as securely attached, insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant.

There are several issues with the Strange Situation as a way of assessing attachment. Firstly, the observation was an overt observation, as the mothers knew they were being watch. As a result, there may have been demand characteristics where the mothers changed their behaviour to appear like excellent parents. Consequently, this could have affected the child’s behaviour which would then affect the results of the experiment, as the researchers would not be observing a valid representation of the child’s behaviour, which could make the Strange Situation a less valid measure of attachment.

Furthermore, another criticism of the strange situation is that it lacks ecological validity. Ainsworth conducted her observation in a controlled environment, and therefore the children may have acted differently to how they would act in a more familiar environment. Therefore, we do not know if the behaviours displayed by children (for example, high separation anxiety) would be the same when the children are in a familiar environment, making this method of assessing types of attachment less valid.

However, one strength of Ainsworth’s Strange Situation is the reliability of the observations, from different observers. Ainsworth carried out further analysis on the Strange Situation and found almost perfect inter-observer reliability from different observers, in terms of exploration behaviours. This matters because it suggests that the Strange Situation is a reliable technique for assessing types of attachment, as different observers agree on their assessment of child attachment types.

Exam Hint: This question elicited very detailed descriptions of the Strange Situation, often at the expense of any discussion. Students need to ensure that they are not writing too much for knowledge at the expense of any discussion/evaluation. However, most students wrote pre-prepared responses to the question ‘Outline and evaluate the Strange Situation’ and failed to acknowledge the part of the question that says ‘as a method of assessing types of attachment’. Students need to ensure that they are ‘signposting’ their answer and constantly referring back to the question, as demonstrated above. 

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