Mary Ainsworth: Biography And Contributions

Mary Ainsworth is a renowned scientist who played an important role in the development of attachment theory. She was interested in aspects of the woman and the human being that psychology had taken the habit of relegating to the background.
Mary Ainsworth: biography and contributions

Mary Ainsworth was a Canadian psychologist who, together with John Bowbly, developed one of the psychological theories that helped understand premature social development in humans: Attachment Theory. At first, this theory focused exclusively on the case of children. However, during the 1960s to 1970s Ainsworth introduced new concepts which made it possible to expand the study to include adults in the 1980s.

This woman was one of the most cited psychologists of the 20th century. Even today, his brilliant theory is the pillar on which many studies in psychology are built. His work is studied in universities around the world. Moreover, although she lived at a time when the place of women was limited professionally, Ainsworth has received many awards.

During her first steps in college, Ainsworth showed some concern which prompted her to begin to reflect on the attachment relationship existing between children and their mother figure. From there was born the theory which made his name popular in the history of psychology.

However, Ainsworth’s life was not limited to studying alone, being overwhelmed by questions and papers. This woman was much more dynamic than the image one might have of women of her time.

His life

Mary Ainsworth was born in the United States but her family moved to Toronto when she was just a child. She received her degree in Developmental Psychology from the University of Toronto and her doctorate in 1939. At the end of her studies, she joined the body of women in the Canadian armed forces. She enlisted in the army for 4 years until reaching the rank of Sergeant-Major.

Soon after, she married and moved to London with her husband. It was at this point that she began working at the Tavistock Institute with psychiatrist John Bowlby. Together, they initiated research based on the experience of separation between children and their mothers.

In 1953, Ainsworth moved to Uganda and began working at the African Institute for Social Research in Kampala. She then continued her research on the premature relationships of children with their mothers.

After a while she got a job at the Johns Hopkins Institute in the United States. Then another at the University of Virginia where she continued to develop her Attachment Theory until her retirement in 1984.

Young Mary Ainsworth

Attachment theory

John Bowlby is considered to be the father of attachment theory. His studies have proven that children have innate exploratory behavior. However, when they feel unprotected or in danger, their first reaction is to seek the support of their mother or guardian.

Mary Ainsworth used Bowly’s basics on control systems. She added a new concept: the foreign situation.

Mary Ainsworth researched the relationship of children to their caregivers. To do this, she added the alien situation to different contexts. The foreign situation was created by adding a foreign person to the child in the context of a mother-child relationship.

Based on the results obtained, Mary Ainsworth broadens her theory by connecting three types of attachment: secure attachment, insecure-avoidant attachment, and insecure-ambivalent attachment. The theory was later extended by other researchers. All the re-readings, comments and contributions correspond to the result of the theory of attachment that we know today.

Mary Ainsworth and the different types of attachment

Attachment theory was further developed with the addition of a fourth type of attachment. The three types of attachment mentioned above are those that were defined and characterized by Mary Ainsworth. Below you will find a description of each of them:

  • Secure attachment : It is generated when the child feels loved and protected. Although the person taking care of him is absent and the child experiences the momentary separation with some anguish; he knows he can trust that person and his return.
  • Insecure-Avoidant Attachment : In this case, the children respond with intense anguish to separation with their mother or guardian. This type of attachment is the result of poor maternal availability or the killer. These children learn to live knowing that their mother will not always be there when they need them.
  • Insecure-ambivalent attachment: This type of attachment develops when the primary caregiver frequently and consistently stops meeting the child’s needs. These children develop a great lack of confidence and learn not to seek help in the future.
Mary Ainsworth's Mother-Child Attachment Theory

Important work

Mary Ainsworth became a keen connoisseur of the importance of developing a healthy maternal attachment relationship. She also studied the influence of this sensation on the future adult.

In the past, the need to develop and create programs to help women make their professional lives and their roles as mothers compatible. In fact, this “double life” was previously almost impossible for women. Today it is quite normal.

Access to academic studies, research, the professional world was not compatible with the domestic tasks associated with the role of wife and mother dictated by society. For this, we can consider Mary Ainsworth as one of the precursors of work-related reconciliation programs for mothers.

As a female researcher, she knew full well that her work should not retain the status of study. It had to serve as a claim, it was something that would change the lives of women and help them choose their path. In fact, we are talking about a scientist who took an interest in aspects of women that psychology left out.

Mary Ainsworth died in 1999, at the age of 86 after a lifetime dedicated to the development of one of the most important theories in present day psychology.


The stages of the attachment bond
Our thoughts Our thoughts

Discover what are the different phases of the attachment bond in children from the theory established by John Bowlby.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button