Adult attachment style and stress as risk factors for early maternal sensitivity and negativity

W. Roger Mills-Koonce, Karen Appleyard, Melissa Barnett, Min Deng, Martha Putallaz, Martha Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


The current study examined the individual and joint effects of self-reported adult attachment style, psychological distress, and parenting stress on maternal caregiving behaviors at 6 and 12 months of child age. We proposed a diathesis-stress model to examine the potential deleterious effects of stress for mothers with insecure adult attachment styles. Data from 137 mothers were gathered by the longitudinal Durham Child Health and Development Study. Mothers provided self-reports using C. Hazan and P. Shaver's (1987) Adult Attachment Style measure, the Brief Symptom Inventory (L.R. Derogatis & P.M. Spencer, 1982), and the Parent Stress Inventory (R.R. Abidin, 1995); observations of parenting data were made from 10-min free-play interactions. Consistently avoidant mothers were less sensitive with their infants than were consistently secure mothers; however, this effect was limited to avoidant mothers who experienced elevated levels of psychological distress. Results suggest that the association between insecure adult attachment style and insensitive parenting behavior is moderated by concurrent psychosocial stress. Clinical implications for these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-285
Number of pages9
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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