Maternal Sensitivity to Distress and Attachment Outcomes: Interactions With Sensitivity to Nondistress and Infant Temperament

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Abstract

The extent to which maternal sensitivity to infant distress predicts specific attachment outcomes independent of and in conjunction with maternal sensitivity to infant nondistress and in conjunction with infant-negative emotionality was examined in a sample of 259 mother–infant dyads. Maternal sensitivity to infant distress and nondistress was observed in a series of distress-eliciting tasks when infants were 6 months and 1-year-old. Mothers rated infant-negative emotionality at 6 months. Infant–mother attachment was observed during the “strange situation” (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978) at 1 year. Four attachment outcomes were considered: the dichotomous security/insecurity classification, avoidant and resistant behaviors across both reunion episodes, and a single rating for disorganized behavior. Maternal sensitivity to distress and nondistress at 1 year were treated as covariates. Sensitivity to distress and nondistress at 6 months and 1 year did not predict more adaptive attachment outcomes as main effects. However, sensitivity to distress and nondistress at 6 months interacted significantly in relation to avoidance, such that sensitivity to nondistress was significantly associated with higher avoidance when sensitivity to distress was low, but not when sensitivity to distress was high. Furthermore, sensitivity to distress at 6 months interacted with infant-negative emotionality in relation to security and both resistant and disorganized behaviors, such that sensitivity to distress was positively associated with security and negatively associated with resistant and disorganized behaviors only among infants who were high on mother-reported negative emotionality. Implications for future research and intervention are discussed.

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