Mary Ainsworth Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Mary Ainsworth: Her Impact on Early Childhood Practices


Mary Ainsworth was born in Ohio in 1913. When she was five, her family moved to Toronto and Mary spent the rest of her childhood in Canada (O’Connell & Russo, 1983). Mary read a book entitled Character and the Conduct of Life when she was fifteen years old and that is what led her to want to pursue a career in psychology (O’Connell & Russo, 1983). The following year, she enrolled at the University of Toronto, earned her BA in 1935, her MA in 1936 and her PHD in Psychology in 1939 (Ravo, 1999). Mary taught at the University of Toronto, researched at Tavistock in England, worked at Johns Hopkins, and then settled at the University of Virginian beginning in 1975, where she stayed till she ended her professorship in 1992 (Ravo, 1999).

While in graduate school, Mary was introduced to “security theory” by way of her mentor William Blatz, who argued that children develop varying levels of dependence upon their parents as they grow and those levels of dependence will predict the type of relationship that the children will have as adults, both with their parents and with other people. Blatz’s theory was that the more secure children feel the more likely they are to have happy and healthy relationships.

Mary married while a researcher and later divorced. She believed that her mother’s own distance from her as a child had something to do with Mary’s ability to establish meaningful relationships (O’Connell & Russo, 1983). Critics later argued that this perspective is what shaped her research and limited its external validity. However, other researchers found that Ainsworth’s attachment theory did demonstrate at least some statistical significance with regard to how the mother-infant relationship determined or predicted the child’s attachment type (McLeod, 2016).


Ainsworth developed attachment theory while working with another researcher John Bowlby at Tavistock (Ravo, 1999). Following their initial work, Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation Procedure in order to assess variances in attachment behavior. The process examined and recorded the mother-infant reactions to stress through eight different episodes involving the infant being left with a stranger for three minutes while the caregiver/parent is present or not present. As the stress of being without the caregiver or in the presence of the stranger is amplified, the infant’s reactions are observed. Ainsworth conducted this study with 26 infant participants and found a variety of attachment relationships, expressed through various forms of communication, emotions, and responses (Ravo, 1999).

The attachment relationships were characterized as anxious-avoidant insecure attachment, secure attachment, anxious-resistant insecure attachment, and disorganized/disoriented attachment within four separate categories: Separation Anxiety, Stranger Anxiety Reunion Behavior, and Other. 70% of the infants demonstrated secure relationships in that they cried for their mother when she left, they avoided the stranger when alone but were friendly when their mothers were there, they were happy when mothers returned, and the mother was used as a secure base for exploring the environment (McLeod, 2016). A child who had a secure attachment was able to be easily soothed by the parent or attachment figure and secure attachments were developed when the mother was attentive to and sensitive or sympathetic to the child’s needs…

Sources Used in Document:


McLeod, S. (2016). Mary Ainsworth. Retrieved from

O’Connell, A. & Russo, N. (1983). Models of achievement: Reflections of eminent women in psychology. New York, NY: Columbia University.

Ravo, N. (1999). Mary Ainsworth, 85, theorist on mother-infant attachment. Retrieved from

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