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The Attachment Q Sort (AQS), may be used at home or in day care without stressful separations. The AQS consists of about 100 cards, each describing a specific behavioral characteristic of children between 12 and 48 months. After several hours of observation, the observer ranks the cards from "most descriptive of the child" to "least descriptive of the child." By comparing the resulting description with the behavioral profile of a “prototypically secure” child provided by attachment experts, we can compute a score for attachment security.

A meta-analysis of 139 AQS studies including 13,835 children found the AQS attachment security evaluations converge with those obtained via the “Strange Situation” method, making it a valid and useful tool for assessing attachment security. As attachment theory suggests, the AQS shows that sensitive parental caregiving predicts children’s attachment security. The credibility of the AQS is important because the test may be especially useful in new (cross-cultural or clinical) populations, enabling the researcher to get to know the group-specific kind of secure behaviors of the children in more detail. The AQS also allows for the measurement of other variables besides attachment, such as dependence and sociability. Additionally, if continuous measures are needed across a larger age range, as in short-term longitudinal studies, the observer AQS may prove to be more useful than the SSP, which can only be used for children in the second year of life. The same may be true for intervention studies that require repeated unobtrusive attachment assessments.

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Waters, E. & Deane, K. E. (1985). Defining and assessing individual differences in attachment relationships: Q-methodology and the organization of behavior in infancy and early childhood. In I. Bretherton & E. Waters (Eds.), Growing points in attachment theory and research (pp. 41-65), Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50 (1-2, Serial No. 209).

Waters, E. (1987). Attachment behavior Q-set (Revision 3.0). Unpublished manuscript, SUNY, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook.

Waters, E., Garber, J., Gornal, M. & Vaughn, B. (1983). Q-sort correlates of visual regard among, preschool peers: Validation of a behavioral index of social competence. Developmental Psychology, 19, 550-560.

Waters, E., Noyes, D.M., Vaughn, B.E. & Ricks, M. (1985). Q-sort definition of social competence and self-esteem: Discriminant validity of related construct in theory and data. Developmental Psychology, 21, 508-552.

Waters, E., Kondo-Ikemura, K., Posada, G. & Richters, J. E. (1990). Learning to love: Mechanisms and milestones. In M. R. Gunnar and L. A. Sroufe (Eds.) Self Processes and Development. The Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology. Vol. 23, (pp. 217-255). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.