Mary (Salter) Ainsworth

Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Mary Ainsworth | 0 comments

Mary (Salter) Ainsworth

Name: Mary (Salter) Ainsworth

Date of Birth:     December 1st 1913

Date of Death:   March 21st 1999

Hometown:        Glendale, Ohio

Nationality:       American-Canadian

Family:              Married to Leonard Ainsworth, but divorced in 1960

Personal Summary of  Dr. Ainsworth

Strong dynamic personality, dedicated to her work. Contributed to the field of Psychology through research in infant-maternal attachments and development of the “Strange Situation.” Influential twentieth century thinker.


Academic Qualifications

University of Toronto, Canada                                           Year of Graduation

Bachelor degree in the Honorary Psychology Program                 1935

Master’s Degree                                                                            1936

Ph.D.                                                                                             1939


Career History


University of Virginia, U.S.A

Professor Emeritus 

John Hopkins University, U.S.A


  • Developed “Strange Situation” assessment

Private Practice

  • Worked with children

East African Institute of Social Research, Uganda, Africa

Research Psychologist

  • Conducted short-term, longitudinal, naturalistic study of mother-infant relationships

Tavistock Clinic, England

  • Worked with John Bowlby on maternal-infant attachment research

Canadian Women’s Army Corp, Canada


  • Administered tests
  • Conducted interviews
  • Recorded histories
  • Provided counselling

University of Toronto, Canada



Notable Works/Ideas

  • “Strange Situation” assessment– a method designed to test the attachment style a baby has towards his/her mother. This is carried out through placing a baby with his/her mother in an unfamiliar room. The mother then leaves the room and the observer records the child’s reactions to his/her mother’s departure. The way the baby behaves when the mother departs and returns reveals key information about attachment.
  • Attachment Theory– Based on the “Strange Situation” technique, Ainsworth concluded that there are three main attachment types: secure, anxious-avoidant and anxious-resistant. A secure attachment is characterized by a baby becoming distressed when the mother leaves but happy upon her return. There is a sense of trust between the baby and mother whereby the baby feels he/she can depend on the mother. When the mother is in the room, the baby feels secure to explore the new surroundings. When she leaves, the baby can be comforted by a stranger but evidently prefers his/her mother. The anxious-avoidant attachment is characterized by a baby becoming only slightly anxious when the mother leaves and will actively avoid contact upon her return. He/she will try and squirm away from the mother. The baby believes that the mother cannot be relied on and doesn’t trust her to meet his/her basic needs. The baby is geared up for rejection. The baby would treat a stranger and his/her mother in the same way revealing that there is no connection or bond between mother and baby. This could be due to neglectful or abusive parenting. The anxious-resistant attachment is characterized by a baby becoming very anxious when the mother leaves but either ambivalent or angry when she returns. Even before the mother leaves, the baby will seek proximity and not explore the novel surroundings. When she leaves, the baby will not be easily comforted by a stranger. This is also the result of mother’s not being in tune with their baby’s needs and treating them in an inconsistent manner. Needless to say the first attachment style is secure whereas the latter two are decisively insecure.


Selected Publications

  • Child Care and the Growth of Love| 1965
  • Infancy in Uganda| 1967
  • Patterns of Attachment| 1978



Member of the British Psychological Association, the Eastern Psychological Association, the Virginia Psychological Association and served as President of the Society for Research in Child Development from 1977 to 1979. Fellow of the American Psychological Association from 1972 to 1977.


Selected Awards

  • G. Stanley Hall Award from the APA for developmental psychology| 1984
  • Award for Distinguished Professional Contribution to Knowledge from the APA| 1987
  • Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution from the APA| 1989
  • Gold Medal for Scientific Contributions from the American Psychological Foundation| 1998


Activities and Interests

  • Travel
  • Psychoanalytic theory


References available upon request


Cherry, K. (n.d.). Mary Ainsworth Biography. Psychology. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from

Held, L. (2010). Profile of Mary Ainsworth. Psychology’s Feminist Voices Multimedia Internet Archive. Retrieved from

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