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Stranger Anxiety

Stranger anxiety is discomfort at the approach of an unfamiliar person. Babies differ greatly in how they show it: some cry vigorously, cling and hide their faces, or merely become subdued and wary. Because of differences among researchers with regard to behaviors used as evidence of stranger anxiety, there is disagreement about when it first occurs. Clearly, however, by the time they are one year old, most babies react with some degree of stranger anxiety. These reactions show that they can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar people, an accomplishment of cognitive development. As the child continues to grow, new ways of showing discomfort appear. Pre-schoolers, for instance, may whisper or refuse to talk when strangers make a near approach. Babies and preschoolers who have had considerable experience encountering strangers or who are approached by a stranger while an attachment figure is closeby may show little or no stranger anxiety.


Morgan, George, and Henry N. Ricciuti. "Infants' Responses to Strangers during the First Year." In Brian M. Foss ed., Determinants of Infant Behavior. New York: Wiley, 1969.

Sroufe, L. Alan. "Wariness of Strangers and the Study of Infant Development." Child Development 48 (1977):731-746.

Anne McIntyre

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7