Biography of Mary Ainsworth

Paper Type:  Biography
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1850 Words
Date:  2022-07-11


Mary Ainsworth is an acclaimed psychologist who has made significant contributions to the field of psychology. According to Bretherton (2013), Mary Dinsmore Salter was born on December 1, 1913, I a town called Glendale in Ohio. Her parents were Charles and Mary Salter, and she was the eldest daughter. From 1918, Mary grew up in Toronto, Canada after her father received a transfer request from his company. At this time, Mary was five years old when she moved to Toronto (Bretherton, nd). Mary remembers her father as a parent who loved to tuck his children in bed and sing them a lullaby song. She liked her father more than she liked the mother. Mary had begun to show her interest in reading and learning in the early years. She managed to read and learn at the age of three. At the age of fifteen, Mary read William McDougall's book Character and the Conduct of Life (Bretherton, n.d). The book triggered her interest in psychology. She discovered this interest in her final year in high school. At sixteen years, Mary enrolled at the University of Toronto, and she was ready to study psychology. In a group of five students, Mary was admitted to the challenging Honors Course in Psychology (Bretherton, 2013). She finally graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1935, and afterward, she requested her parents to continue with her education and pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. At this time, her father tried to convince her to work as a stenographer before getting married, but they eventually decided to allow her to pursue her dreams. William Emet Blatz was Mary's doctoral mentor and founder of the Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto (Bretherton, 2013). Blatz was considered the Doctor Spock of Canada. Blatz work on security theory was interesting to Mary. Mary completed her dissertation based on Blatz's security theory. After completing her thesis, Mary was hired as a lecturer at the University of Toronto. Mary wished to contribute more on the war, and in 1942, she joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps and attained the rank of major. Her participation in officer selection procedures enabled her to gain extensive expertise in clinical interviewing, history taking, test administration, and counseling (Bretherton, 2013). After she was hired as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, she decided to pursue a course in clinical assessment. She sought further training in the Rorschach test with the help of Bruno Klopfer. Klopfer was impressed by the test that Mary had designed for his students, and he asked her to co-author a volume with him.

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In 1950, Mary was married to Leonard Ainsworth who was a World War II veteran and a graduate student in psychology in the University of Toronto (Bretherton, 2000). Mary later applied for a position in Bowlby's research group located at the Tavistock Institute. The members of this research team developed a series of paper to pencil scales that investigated familial and extrafamilial aspects of adult security (Bretherton, 2013). At the Tavistock Institute, James Robertson was Mary's closest colleague. Mary was tasked to assist Robertson with the analysis of his detailed observational notes. Mary was impressed with Robertson's observational skills and quality of data. Mary was intrigued by Bowlby's quest. Mary was, however, not interested with the direction that Bowlby was headed and she even warned him of publishing such material regarding mother-infant attachment. Mary's husband, Leonard Ainsworth applied for a job in East Africa Institute of Social Research in Kampala and was accompanied by Mary. In Uganda, Mary saw an opportunity to conduct an observational study based on Robertson's experiment with hospitalized children. Mary was funded to do her investigation of mother-infant separation at weaning. During the research, Mary realized that Bowlby's ideas were more useful as a theoretical basis for studying infants. The findings were significant and were later published in 1967 (Bretherton, 2000). Besides, Mary moved to Baltimore where she had found a job as a forensic psychologist. She also held a part-time clinical assessment job at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Psychiatric Hospital. In 1960, Bowlby and Mary began working together as partners in the new study of attachment theory. In 1961, Mary launched a survey of infant-mother attachment after divorcing her husband. Mary also developed the twenty-minute Strange Situation Assessment. Her findings on the various studies she conducted attracted a significant number of graduate students who viewed Mary as a teacher and a mentor. As a mentor, Mary was exacting, caring, believed in hands-on writing, and challenging as well as an inspiring teacher. Her students became productive academics, and other worked as her research assistants. In 1984, Mary retired at the age of seventy in as Professor Emeritus, and she died in Charlottesville, Virginia on March 21, 1999.

Mary Ainsworth was significantly influenced to become a psychologist by a myriad of events and influential people. At the age of fifteen, Mary read William McDougall's book, which stirred her interest to pursue psychology. Some of the individuals who influenced her to improve her skill as a psychologist and engage in various research studies were Blatz, John Bowlby, and James Robertson. Blatz and Bowlby shared a medical background and an interest in the psychological development of children. A background in psychology enabled Blatz in collaboration with other writers such as Sperrin Chant, Edward Bott, and Helen Bott to write some books and articles on parenting. Additional research studies by Blatz made him realize that. Further research studies by Blatz made him realize that early childhood separation had adverse effects on the growth and development of children. According to Rosmalen (2015), the courses that Mary took together with Blatz exposed her to the works of Blatz, especially the security theory, which interested Mary. Blatz further influenced Mary when he asked her to write his dissertation under his guidance. Mary was impressed with this offer and gladly accepted to help Blatz. Mary under the supervision of Blatz constructed self-report pencil-paper scales for assessing the security of young adults faced in their relationships with friends and families (Rosmalen, 2015). After Blatz and other colleagues left the university to contribute to the war, Mary was influenced to join the Canadian Women's Army Corps. Mary moved through the ranks and had the opportunity to pursue clinical assessments. An individual such as Bruno Kopfer influenced Mary's interest in psychology y teaching her projective tests, which Mary even designed some for Kopfer's students. The close relationship between Blatz and Mary made the two to work side by side as partners, and Mary expanded her dissertation research.

John Bowlby, the founder of Tavistock Clinic, was interested with the works of Mary and offered her a job. Bowlby's work mostly focused on maternal separation during childhood and its effects on personal development. Bowlby was already formulating a theory based on the research question. His works made Mary realize that she had been studying young adults using tests and measures. Bowlby's work influenced Mary to shift focus to studying infants by engaging in direct observations. Bowlby, Mary, and James Robertson collaborated to write a book on mother-infant separation (Rosmalen, 2015). The project mainly focused on the emotions children felt after they were separated from their mothers. James Robertson was tasked with the responsibility to observe the behavior of children. Mary was impressed with the quality of work and the observational notes that were made by James Robertson. She was also impressed by the method of direct naturalistic observation. Bowlby and Robertson enabled Mary to learn the skill and the value of direct observation. The influence of Blatz, Bowlby, and Robertson pushed Mary to conduct an individual study in Uganda and Baltimore. In Uganda, Mary utilized the observational skills learned from Robertson to investigate the response of infants to separation at weaning. The observational skills made caused her to pay a lot of attention to the mother-child bond, and the development of the relationship. Even while Mary was working independently, Bolby used to reach to her, and they would share research materials and ideas to influence each other's views and direction. Rosmalen (2015) notes that both would type ten-single spaced pages of research for the other to review and to comment on the issues discussed in the paper. These interactions prompted Mary to conduct her latest research in Baltimore. The influence of the security theory developed by Bowlby was evident in the survey works by Mary. It is worthy to note that Mary's interaction with Blatz, Bowlby, Robertson, and her visit to Uganda, and later in Baltimore, influenced her desire to conduct thorough studies on mother-infant bonds and the effects mother separation has on the child's development.

Mary's desire in psychology, educational background, and her interaction with influential researchers focused on improving psychology made her make significant contributions to the field of psychology. Mary Ainsworth made two significant contributions to psychology. Her primary studies were infant-mother interaction, security, and patterns of attachment using the strange situation. Her findings in this study made other researchers to recognize the mother-child bond and its effects on the development of the child, especially in the early years of growth. Her first research on infant-mother interaction took place in Uganda. Mary studies twenty-six mothers and twenty-eight infants. The children selected for the study were two years old. Mary's focus was on the development of attachment between the infant and the child, so she focused on the age period of two to four months. The findings of the study were significant, and Mary published the book Infancy in Uganda (1967) (Main, 1999). The book contains the demographic description of Kampala and some of the mothering practices in Uganda. The case studies incorporated in the research from Uganda enabled Mary to systematize for the first time the development of focused attachment to the mother and the father. The attachment covered aspects such as differential smiling, differential crying, burying the face in the mother, crying when the mother leaves, use of mother as a secure base for exploration, lifting arms in greetings, and clapping hands in greetings (Main, 1999). Through her research, Mary identifies the individual differences in the quality of the infant's relation to the mother. She categorized the differences as secure, insecure, and non-attached. Mary termed the children secure when they cried a little except when separated from the mother or became ill. Secure children were also those who showed contention when the mother was around. Insecure children were those who cried a lot even when held by their mothers. Additionally, insecure children were those who fussed and were unable to use their mothers as a secure base for exploration. Non-attached children showed an absence of differential displays of attachment behavior (Main, 1999). The research in Uganda is significance to the field of psychology and the readers because it recognizes the universal nature of the infant-mother interaction. Mary also utilized no particular jargon for the study making it easier for readers and other researchers to understand the research. She obtained this mode of language form Robertson, and she passed on the same skills to her students who have significantly utilized this simple jargon. Mary also noticed that secure children would later become insecure and vice versa. This finding made her conclude that ideal m...

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Biography of Mary Ainsworth. (2022, Jul 11). Retrieved from

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