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Adult Attachment Interview classifications and corresponding patterns of infant strange behaviour

by Mike Fisher

Adult state of mind with respect to attachment

Infant strange situation behaviour

Secure/autonomous (F)

Coherent, collaborative discourse. Valuing of attachment, but seems objective regarding any particular event or relationship. Description and evaluation of attachment-related experiences is consistent, whether experiences are favourable or unfavourable. Discourse does not notably violate any of Grice’s maxims.

(see notes below)

Secure (B)

Explores room and toys with interest in pre-separation episodes.Shows signs of missing parent during separation, often crying by the second separation. Obvious preference for parent over stranger greets parent actively, usually initiating physical contact. Usually some contact maintained. Returns to play.

Dismissing (Ds)

Not coherent. Dismissing of attachment-related experiences and relationships. Normalising (excellent, very normal mother’), with generalised representations of history unsupported or actively contradicted by episodes recounted, thus violating Grice’s maxim of quality. Transcripts also tend to be excessively brief, violating the maxim of quantity.

Avoidant (A)

Fails to cry on separation from parent. Actively avoids and ignores parent on reunion(ie by moving away, turning away or leaning out of arms when picked up). Little or no proximity of contact-seeking. No distress and no anger.Response to parent appears unemotional. Focuses on toys or environment throughout procedure.

Preoccupied (E)

Not coherent. Preoccupied with or by past attachment relationships or experiences, speaker appears angry, passive or fearful. Sentences often long, grammatically entangled, or filled with vague usages (dadadada’,’and that’), thus violating Grice’s maxims of manner and relevance. Transcrips often excessively long, violating the maxim of quantity.

Resistant or ambivalent (C)

May be wary or distressed even before separation, with little exploration. Preoccupied with parent throughout procedure: may appear angry or passive. Fails to settle and take comfort in parent on reunion, and usually continues to focus on parent and cry.Fails to return to exploration after reunion.

Unresolved /disorganised (U)

During discussions of loss or abuse, individual shows striking lapse in the monitoring of reasoning or discourse. For example, individual may briefly indicate a belief that a dead person is still alive in the physical sense, or that this person was killed by a childhood thought.  Individual may lapse into prolonged silence or eulogistic speech. The speaker will ordinarily otherwise fit D’s E or F categories.

Disorganised/disorientated (D)

The infant displays disorganised and or disoriented behaviours in the parent’s presence, suggesting a temporary collapse of behavioural strategy.For example, the infant may freeze with a trance-like expression, hands in air;may rise at parents entrance, then fall prone and huddled on the floor;or may cling while crying hard and leaning away with gaze averted. Infant will ordinarily otherwise fit A,B or C categories

Taken from “The Search for the secure base by Jeremy Holmes 2001

Sources - Adapted from Hesse (1999)

Notes - Descriptions of the adult attachment classification system are summarised from Main et al(1985) and from Main and Goldwyn (1984a.1998a) Descriptions of infant A,B,C categories are summarised from Ainsworth et al (1978) and the description of the infant D categories summarised from Main and Soloman (1990). Data from Main (1996)

Notes to accompany the above table.

H. P. Grice’s maxims of conversation

  1. Maxim of Quantity – All the necessary information is given; no unnecessary information is given.

  2. Maxim of Quality – Information is true, not false or misleading.

  3. Maxim of relation – Information given is relevant to the goal of the conversation.

  4. Maxim of manner – The communication is clear, brief and orderly; ambiguity and obscurity is avoided.

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