Attachment in the early years
Attachment in the early years

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Attachment in the early years

6 Strange Situation Test

The Strange Situation Test is a standardised assessment of a child’s attachment status, which is normally carried out when a child is aged between 9 and 18 months of age. The following two videos show examples of this method being carried out in the laboratory of the Childhood and Youth Studies Group on The Open University’s Milton Keynes campus.

Making a valid classification of a child’s attachment on the basis of videos such as these is a highly skilled task, requiring extensive training to reach a high degree of accuracy and reliability. For this reason, do not view these videos with an aim of assessing each child’s status. Rather, make use of them to better understand the method and, in particular, the reunion behaviour that is analysed.

Now view the videos below.

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Skip transcript: Strange Situation Test 1

Transcript: Strange Situation Test 1

Mother
What have you got? No, don't sit on that. I don't think that'll hold you, sweetheart. I don't think that'll hold you. You can sit on the floor. We'll just keep that there. Yeah?

[CHILD COOS]

[KNOCKING]

Stranger
That's the signal for me to just start talking to you.
Mother
Yeah.
Stranger
Everything seems to be going all right so far.
Mother
Yeah, it's great. I think she likes the toys.
Stranger
She likes the toys?
Mother
Yeah.
Stranger
Had a good look around the room, hasn't she?
Mother
Yeah. They're different toys than she's got at home.
Stranger
She's exploring and walking.
Mother
Yeah.
Stranger
At the next knock, then that's when I'm going to just play with her a little bit, and then you know there's going to be a knock, and that's when you leave.
Mother
Yeah, that's fine.
Stranger
Yeah, yeah. You had to come far?
Mother
We've come from Bedford, but we came with Sarah too.
Stranger
Oh I see.
Mother
Yes, Sarah picked us up, so it's not too far, really.
Stranger
Right.
Mother
Do you do this sort of thing a lot?
Stranger
No.
We've been quite a few times before, but not very often, it just depends what's going on in terms of research. But it's always interesting to see how the different children react.

[KNOCKING]

Stanger
Mia seems really comfortable, doesn't she? See if I can join in a little bit. Hey, you've found some very interesting things, haven't you? What've you got there, then? Are you putting them in the big pot? Oh, that's right!
Put them in there. They're funny little things, aren't they? Let me shake them up now. Oh! Oops. All fallen out on the carpet. Yeah, what was that? The green one? There. The blue one, and there's a yellow one. They're nice, aren't they? What if you try putting them in here? They go in there. Shall I show you? It's quite funny. Put them in. Then you press it down, and it goes, whee! Want to have a go on that, hmm? Gonna have a go. Pop it in the hole. Push it down. Ready? Whee! [KNOCKING] A little bounce! Bounced out, didn't it? Want to have a go with that green one?
Oh, mummy's just popped out for a moment.
She'll be back in a minute.

[CHILD SHRIEKS]

Stanger
Oh, Mia.
Oh, it's all right , Mia, coming back in a moment. Here, it's all right. She'll be back in a minute. Come and have a little play. Have a little bit more of a play? [CHILD CRIES] Like to come and play for a bit longer, while mummy's away? There we are. Let's pop you out of the way of the door. Ooh, there, there. Just have a look at these nice toys, shall we? Oh! There's that little man again! Where's he gonna go this time, hmm? Where's he gonna go? Gonna pop him in his pot? In the pot? Look! It's that big pot. You can put him in there; put the red one in. Oh, there he goes.
There. Look, see? Where's that little yellow one? There! There's another one. That's good, isn't it?
Oh dear. Oh Mia, it's all right. Having a look around. It's all right. Mummy will be back in a minute. Come on. Let's have a look at these little toys, shall we? Oh, she'll be back soon! Come on. Let me move you out of the way of the door. Oh, there's a good girl. What a good girl. Pop you over here. There, it's all right. She'll be back soon. She'll be back soon. There we go.

[CHILD CRIES]

Stranger
Oh, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear.

[KNOCKING]

Stranger
Be back soon!

[CHILD CRIES]

Mother
Shh, shh, shh, shh, shh. That's it. You're all right.
Yeah? All right? Shall we sit down and play with some toys again? Hey? Come on, then. Come on, then. Oh, there we go. Where's that lady gone? Is she gone? Come on, then, let's sit down and play with some toys again. There we go. Oh! [CHILD CRIES] It's all right, it's all right. It's OK. It's all right. Let's have a go.

[CHILD CRIES]

[MOTHER GENTLY SHUSHES]

Mother
There we are.
Shhh. Shhh. Here we go, OK? What's this? Who's that? Eh? Who's that? Have you got him? Oh! What about this? Shall we take these out of here? Hm? Here we go. We have to put them back through the holes. Yeah? Go on, then. Where's that one go? Does it go there, like that? Oh! Do you want to do one? You do one, then? Where does that one go? What's down there, then? Does it go in that one? Oops! Good girl! See a different one? Is there any more here? Yeah? Ooh! You're so clever. Oh, it goes in that one. There you go! Does it go in that one? There we go!

[CHILD SHRIEKS]

Mother
Shh, shh, shh! We can't eat plastic. It's OK. They go in there, don't they? See, that's it.

[KNOCKING]

[CHILD CRIES MOMENTARILY]

[PROLONGED CRY]

[PROLONGED CRY]

[CRYING CEASES]

[SINGLE CRY]

Stranger
Hello! You having a nice little play? You having a little play in here? Oh, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, let's see what you've got.

[CRYING]

Stranger
Oh, yes, I know. It's very hard, isn't it? Oh, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, I know. It's nearly finished, though. There you go. Oh, dear, dear, dear. That's it, yeah. Let's have a look. Let's see what-- you're being very brave, aren't you? Here's that little man again. Oh, let's see where he can go. Plop! Pop him in. That's it!

[CRYING]

Stranger
That's it!

[CRYING]

Stranger
Oh, you're being very brave. [CRYING OVER STRANGER TALKING] Ready?

[KNOCKING]

Mother
There you are. Oh, I know.
Come on! There we go, there we go. Let's sit here with mummy. Sshh, sit with me now. You can sit with me. Oh, that one is gone as well! She's gone as well! See? There you go. It's OK. That's it. Sshh! [CHILD VOCALISES] Yeah, shall we sit down here together then? Does it go in there? Yeah? Is there any more? They go in there?
Oh, that one! Go on. There we go. Clever girl. And another one? Yeah? In there? Oh, that's right! Want them again? That's it, I know. That's it. There! They're bouncy, aren't they? Funny! In that one? Oh! Yes. There we go! There we are. Somebody else coming in? Is there any more of those? That's it. Oh! Does it bounce? Does it bounce? Put it there. Hm? Want to play with it? There you go, then. You sit there, then.
It's all right, I'm still here. Just play with it there, you see. There we go, there we go. Oh! Good girl. Whee! Just here, I'm just here! I'm just here. I haven't gone anywhere. Ha ha, I'm still here. Aw, you big softie, aren't you?
End transcript: Strange Situation Test 1
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Transcript: Strange Situation Test 2

Mother
Jeffrey, do you want this? Oh, ah! Where is it? Let's get it. You want this? There's one. There's one. Yeah! Oh, no. Oh, well done. Well done! Still like this one?
Yellow, yellow colour! This one, little one there.
Oh, well done!

[KNOCKING]

Stranger
That's the first knock just to tell me to start chatting to you.
Mother
Yeah, OK.
Stranger
Everything seems to be going OK at the moment, doesn't it?
Mother
Yeah.
Stranger
He seems quite settled, doesn't he?
Mother
Yeah.
Stranger
He's enjoying the toys.
Mother
He maybe feels a bit quiet normally, if there's some background noise going on, he--
Stranger
Oh, yeah, it's quite an unusual feel. When the next knock happens, I'm going to just play with him a little bit, and then the knock after that is when you slip out. You know the procedure quite well.
Mother
I was reading this--
Stranger
Yeah, it's helpful. It's not difficult. He likes those little things, doesn't he? Did you just come from a play group or something?
Mother
Yeah
Stranger
Seems to be interested in those.

[KNOCKING]

Stranger
See if I can join in a bit. That looks good, Jeffrey, doesn't it? Yeah, Jeffrey. You carry on--
Mother
I can go?
Stranger
Oh, no, no, carry on with what you're doing. What have you got there? That looks very interesting doesn't it? Oh, lots of pots. Oh! Get the green one. That's it. Turn it upside down. Gonna get them out! That's a green one. What's coming out next? Oh, another one in there? Oh, pop it back in! And there's a little yellow one. Can you put it in as well? A little red one. There you go. Oh, and the blue. You've got lots in there now, haven't you? Oh, you like clapping?
Oh, clapping!
Mother
Encouragement.
Stranger
You being very clever, aren't you? Very good. Got them all in.

[KNOCKING]

Stranger
See if we can make something. Yeah! Put them in again, well done. Oh, is it going in as well? Gonna pop the red one in. Oh, back in a minute. The red one? Hey! Done it again. Well done! That's it. The red one goes inside. Yay! What else can we do?
Good! It's gone inside again, hasn't it? I'm going to take that green one out and put that in this big one. What can you do? Put the yellow one in? And then the red? It's a good game, isn't it? Inside! Well done. Oh! It's in now, isn't it? Take the little ones out. Where did the little ones go? There they are. They're underneath. It's a good game, isn't it?
Well done! Well done, Jeffrey. What are you going to do now, hm? Play another game? What are you going to do now? Getting them out again?
Put them in! That's it, well done! You're very good at that, aren't you? That's a good game, hmm? What are you going to do next, hm?

[KNOCKING]

Mother
Hello, Jeffrey! Hello. Are you happy here? Hey, are you happy here? Oh, the red one's gone!
Oh, which one? Mm-hm! What do you want? Do you want a little bit? Hey! Put back! And what about this one? Where to put it? Yay! Good boy.
No, this one. Yeah. Yeah. Hey, hey. Look. Ah. Good! Well done! This one? Look, look. Here. Here. No. There!

[KNOCKING]

[CHILD CRIES MOMENTARILY]

[CRIES]

[CRIES CONTINUOUSLY]

Stranger
Hello, Jeffrey. You all right? Hello. What've you got there, something good? Those are nice toys, aren't they? Oh, you gonna show me how to put them in there? Oh, which one is it? Shall we try that one? Do you want to have a go? Try that one. Hooray! It's gone in! Well done. Ooh, got a nice, red star. Where's that going to go? Oop! Try another round one? There you go. Very good, well done. Yay! Well done!
Shall I have a go? There they are, those ones you put in. There they are. Rolling around, see them? Here's another one. Want to get them out? We need to take the lid off, don't we? Shall I help you? There they are. There you go.
Put the lid back on, and we can have another turn. There, where are they going to go? Mm, not that one. Try another. Oh! Not that one. Have another go. There's the one. Well done. Well done. Well done! Very good. Need some help? Shall we get these out? Take the lid off. There they are. That's right. Put the lid back on and you can have another go.

[KNOCKING]

Mother
Jeffrey? Jeffrey? Hi! How are you? Oh, aw. Did you miss me? Yeah. You were playing very well. You're playing very well! How many are there, hm? One, two, one, and two. OK. No. Oh, well done, well done! Oh, well done! How about this one? No, no, this one, should be here. Hey! Look. This one? Oh! This one? Come here, then! Here. No. Oh! No. What about this one? Look at me. How about this one?
End transcript: Strange Situation Test 2
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You may be concerned about the ethics of these tests. The protocols that are followed have been developed over many years to minimise and mitigate children’s distress and the two separation episodes are terminated as soon as either the carer or the supervising researcher feels that the stress may become too much for a child to cope with. This is discussed further in the next section, which covers the topic of research ethics.

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