Risk components and security of mother-infant attachment at twelve months



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The study of the first formation by human infants of social relationships is now in its own infancy. 'Attachment' is a central concept chiefly because in observations of twelve month old babies it can be seen that maintaining closeness to and involvement with a primary adult is a central activity. One early discovery has been three molar distinctions in the way babies form attachments to their primary caretakers. The securely attached infants make use of the attachment figure to reduce stress and restore a positive equilibrium in which another central activity, exploration, is heightened. Avoidant and resistant or ambivalent babies ignore her and get angry with her, respectively, which, however adaptive such responses may be to the infants' specific environments, likely hamper optimal social and perhaps cognitive and physical development as well. These latter patterns are considered to be reflective of insecure attachment. The present study was an examination of the extent to which securely and insecurely attached infants could be distinguished on the basis of psychogenic, biogenic, and sociogenic risk factors present at birth. Also the relationships between mental and psychomotor development, maternal perceptions of their infants, aspects of the home environment, and general infant security and security of attachment were examined. It was hypothesized that emotional disturbance in the primary or other caretaker, family conflict, prenatal or delivery complications, low birth weight, mother's age of 15 or younger or education less than the eleventh grade, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children as primary financial support would predict insecure attachment at 12 months. It was further hypothesized that insecurely attached infants would have slower development, less responsive and supportive home environments, more distorted maternal perceptions, and less general security than would securely attached infants. Subjects were 40 mother-infant pairs who were participants in the Birth to Three Project for Infants at High Risk for the Development of Emotional Disorder and/or Developmental Delay. No control group was obtained due to the service orientation of the referral project, and all mothers and infants received the services of a home visitor. After the infants were three months but before they were six months of age, they were assessed on a risk profile, along with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, the Flint Infant Security Scale, the Caldwell Home Environment Inventory, and the Neonatal Perception Inventory. These tests were readministered at 12 months, at which time the infant's security of attachment to a primary caretaker was also examined with the Ainsworth (1969) strange situation technique. In this method, infant proximity seeking, contact maintenance,avoidance, or resistance, and distance interaction with the primary caretaker were videotaped during a 20-minute laboratory situation in which each mother separated from and reunited with her infant twice, once with a stranger present and once when the infant was left alone. Videotapes were then coded and the infants given an attachment rating. It was found that the attachment categories accurately described the interactive patterns of the present high risk sample. Discriminant function analyses were performed to see if secure and insecure groups could be distinguished by their risk components, mental and psychomotor development, infant security scores, home environments, and maternal perceptions. Also, multiple regression analyses examined (1) the contributions of risk components to the strange situation interactive behaviors and to mental and psychomotor indices, and (2) contributions of the home environment scales to strange situation behaviors. Support for the hypotheses was significant. Insecure babies were found to more often have mothers who have eleventh grade educations or less, prenatal complications, conflictful families, and babies with low birthweights, and they less often have complications during delivery. Mothers of secure infants tended to avoid restriction and punishment and to organize the environment so as to provide stability, predictability, and breadth of experience. Secure and insecure infants were not distinguished on the basis of general security scores, maternal perceptions, or mental and psychomotor development.