Maternal sensitivity to infant distress and nondistress as predictors of infant-mother attachment security

  • McElwain N
  • Booth-Laforce C
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In considering Bowlby's (1969/1982) conceptualization of attachment as a "biobehavioral safety-regulating system," Goldberg, Grusec, & Jenkins (1999) proposed that maternal sensitivity to infant distress may be particularly relevant to the formation of a secure attachment relationship. Data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care provided a unique opportunity to address this question as maternal sensitivity to nondistress and distress were each coded for 357 mother-infant dyads at 6 months and 230 dyads at 15 months from videotaped observations of mother-infant play sessions. Attachment security was assessed in the Strange Situation at 15 months. Logistic regression analyses indicated that greater sensitivity to distress (but not greater sensitivity to nondistress) at 6 months was associated with increased odds of being classified as secure. The 15-month sensitivity measures were nonsignificant predictors of security. The results support the notion that the protective function of the child-mother attachment relationship may be especially salient during early infancy.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Attachment
  • Distress
  • Infancy
  • Sensitivity

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  • Nancy L. McElwain

  • Cathryn Booth-Laforce

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