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Brain Snacks: Stages of Attachment and Attachment Styles

We learned from our previous Brain Snack that John Bowlby was the one who studied the attachment behaviors of infants with their mothers. Bowlby believed that the mother’s relationship with their child during infancy could affect the child’s overall development through the years. Bowlby (1969) termed “attachment” as the “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings (McLeod, 2017).”

Stages of attachment (from Schaffer & Emerson, 1964)

Asocial (0-6 weeks old) Social and non-social cues will produce a reaction (e.g. smiling)

Indiscriminate attachment (6 wks-7 mos old) Babies enjoy human company, and are easily comfortable with a caregiver

Specific attachment (7-9 mos old) Babies have a “secure base” or a specific person that they seek comfort and protection from; stranger anxiety is usually heightened during this stage

Multiple attachments (9 mos onwards) Babies become more independent and can confidently form attachments with multiple people (e.g. grandparents, neighbors, etc)

Who came up with Attachment Styles?

Mary Ainsworth, who was a colleague of Bowlby’s, furthered the study on attachment in the late 1970s when she came up with an experiment to see how infants, whose primary attachment is towards their mothers, would react to unfamiliar situations. The experiment is called the “Strange Situation”, which consists of 8 episodes:

  • Mother and child enter the room

  • Mother responds and interacts with child in the room

  • Stranger enters room and interacts with mother in front of the child

  • Mother leaves the room; stranger and child are left

  • Mother returns, comforts the child if necessary; stranger leaves

  • Mother leaves the room; child is alone

  • Stranger returns to accompany and comfort the child (if needed)

  • Mother returns to comfort the child; stranger leaves quietly

What are the three attachment styles according to Ainsworth?

After conducting this experiment, Ainsworth discovered that the differences in attachment styles are dependent on the mother’s behavior during a critical period of the child’s development. This means that the child’s attachment style depends on how well and how appropriately the mother responds to their child’s needs.

  • Secure attachment: The child was observed to show distress when separated from mother. They were avoidant of the stranger (unless accompanied by mother), and were happy to see mother after separation. This was observed in 70% of the babies.

  • Ambivalent-insecure attachment: The child was observed to have intense distress when separated from their mother. They had a significant fear of the stranger. When their mother returned, they approached her, but rejected contact after separation. This was observed in 15% of the babies.

  • Avoidant-insecure attachment: The child showed no interest when separated from their mother. They played happily with the stranger, and ignored their mother after separation. This was observed in 15% of the babies.

Knowing and understanding our child’s attachment style at an early age can be helpful in allowing parent, guardians, and teachers to appropriately take care of young children’s needs. Again, our role as caregivers does not end with providing for our child’s physical and material needs. Emotional needs, although quite difficult to notice, play a huge role in the development of children’s personalities and temperaments.


Cherry, K. (2020). The different types of attachment styles. Retrieved from

Duschinsky, R. (2015). The emergence of the disorganized/disoriented (D) attachment classification, 1979–1982. History of Psychology, 18(1), 32-46.

McLeod, S. A. (2017, Febuary 05). Attachment theory. Simply Psychology.

Psychology Unlocked. [PsychologyUnlocked]. (2017, April 28). The Strange Situation | Mary Ainsworth, 1969 | Developmental Psychology [Video]. Youtube.

Waters, E. (2012). The Ainsworth Strange Situation [Lecture notes, PowerPoint slides].

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