Mothering And Attachment Security

Even though Ainsworth (1973) had theorized and found that the sensitivity of maternal care during the first year of life predicted attachment security when the child was one year of age, her work was limited in two important respects. First, her sample of 26 was quite small in size. Second, and more importantly, her evaluations of children's attachment security were informed by what she already knew about the quality of care that the children received at home. Thus, her assessment of maternal sensitivity and attachment security were not independent and this compromised the confidence that could be placed in the results of what, in some respects, had to be regarded as a (remarkable) "pilot" study (Lamb et al., 1984).

Like others, I was fascinated by Ainsworth's (1973) sensitivity hypothesis and used my first longitudinal study of marital change across the transition to parenthood to examine the relation between mothering observed on three occasions during the first year of the infant's life and infant-mother attachment security assessed at 12 months. In this study, 56 Caucasian mothers and their infants from working- and middle-class Caucasian families residing in and around the semi-rural central Pennsylvania community of State College where Penn State University is located were observed at home when infants were 1, 3, and 9 months of age. During each observation period, mothers were directed to go about their everyday household routine, trying as much as possible to disregard the presence of the observer. This naturalistic observational approach is one that I have used in all the research to be described. In order to record maternal and infant behavior, we noted the presence or absence every 15 seconds of an extensive series of maternal and infant behaviors, and one particular kind of dyadic exchange in which the infant or mother emits a behavior, the other responds to it, and the first then contingently responds to the other (i.e., three-step interchange).

Because we did not employ the same rating system as did Ainsworth, we needed a way of conceptualizing and parameterizing the frequency scores of particular behaviors that we generated into indices of sensitivity. Toward this end, we theorized that more was not inherently better and thus hypothesized that infants who established secure relationships with their mothers would have experienced neither the most frequent nor least frequent levels of reciprocal mother-infant interaction. In order to create an index of reciprocal interaction, we factor analyzed a set of 15 mother, child, and dyadic frequency scores. At each of three separate ages, the factor structure proved quite similar, with the principle factor reflecting reciprocal interaction. Loading highly on this factor were measures of maternal attention and care (e.g., undivided attention, vocalize to infant, vocally respond to infant, express positive affection, stimulate/arouse infant), infant behavior (e.g., look at mother, vocalize to mother), and dyadic exchange (i.e., three-step interaction).

We theorized that insecure-avoidance might develop in response to intrusive, overstimulating maternal care (which would force the child to turn away from mother) and that insecure-resistance might be the consequence of insufficiently responsive, unstimulating care. Thus we predicted—and found—that mothers of secure infants would score intermediate on the resulting composite index of reciprocal mother-infant interaction (see Figure 3.2). Moreover, as anticipated, we found that mothers of insecure-avoidant infants scored highest on this index, and that mothers of insecure-resistant infants scored lowest (Belsky, Rovine, & Taylor, 1984). In fact, when the reciprocal interaction composite variable was decomposed into indices of maternal involvement and infant behavior, it was clear that it was the former rather than the latter that distinguished attachment groups.

On the basis of these results, a graduate student at the time, Russ Isabella, extended this work in our second and third longitudinal studies by focusing not solely upon the raw, composited frequencies of maternal and infant behavior on which our original index of reciprocal interaction was based, but rather on the close-in-time co-occurrence of mother and infant behaviors which were theorized to reflect synchronous and asynchronous exchanges in the dyad. The subjects of this work were 153 working- and middle-class Caucasian families rearing firstborns drawn from the same community as our first study. Once again, mother-infant dyads had been observed for 45 minutes, this time at two distinct ages—6 and 9 months—using the same time-sampling methodology already described, and infants had been seen with their mothers in the university laboratory at 12 months to measure attachment security using the Strange Situation. For his dissertation Isabella pursued the hypothesis that dyads that fostered secure attachment would be characterized by interactions that appeared synchronous, whereas those that fostered insecurity would look asynchronous. And, based upon our

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