Disorganization and Disorientation in Infant Strange Situation Behavior

Phenotypic Resemblance to Dissociative States
  • Mary Main
  • Hillary Morgan


The Ainsworth Strange Situation is a brief, structured observational procedure in which one-year-old infants are exposed to two brief separations from the parent in an unfamiliar laboratory environment (Ainsworth and Wittig, 1969). The infant’s response to this moderately stressful experience appears to reflect the history of the caregiving it has experienced, and three traditional patterns of infant-mother “attachment organization” have been identified, each related to a particular pattern of maternall care (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters and Wall, 1978). Infants who explore the room and the toys in the parent’s presence, show signs of missing the parent on separation, seek proximity and contact on reunion, and then return to play are termed secure. The mothers of these infants have repeatedly been observed to be relatively “sensitive and responsive” to their signals and communications across the first year of life. Infants who focus almost exclusively on the toys, actively avoiding and ignoritíg the parent on reunion, are termed insecure-avoidant, a response linked to the mother’s consistent rejection of infant attachment behavior. Finally, infants who seem distressed, angry, and preoccupied with the mother throughout the procedure, and fail to settle by the end of the final reunion episode are termed insecure-resistant/ambivalent (hereafter, insecure-resistant). This behavior pattern has been found linked to inconsistent and unpredictable maternal responsiveness. Each of these three traditional patterns of attachment are considered to represent organized strategies for dealing with the stress of separation from the parent in a strange environment (Main, 1990), although attachment to the mother has repeatedly been found to predict less favorable outcomes than does secure attachment in later childhood (see Cassidy and Berlin, 1994, and Main, 1995, for an overview of the foregoing studies).


Attachment Figure Adult Attachment Attachment Behavior Attachment Status Disorganize Attachment 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Main
    • 1
  • Hillary Morgan
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California at BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California at DavisDavisUSA

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