Identifying Perinatal Predictors of Disorganized Infant-Mother Attachment: An Important Step Toward Connecting Families with Appropriate Early Interventions
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Four decades of research demonstrates that infant-caregiver attachment has important implications for subsequent socio-emotional functioning, with attachment security predictive of a wide range of positive outcomes, and attachment insecurity—and the insecure-disorganized pattern in particular—predictive of later difficulties. This early risk can be ameliorated with early prevention, yet effective prevention depends on a more thorough understanding of the etiology of attachment disorganization. Because measures of caregiver behaviors shown to predict infant-caregiver attachment yield modest to moderate effect sizes, some researchers have suggested the field refocus on understanding the caregiver cognitive processes that underlie infant-caregiver attachment. In an effort to better understand these cognitive mechanisms underlying the development of infant-caregiver attachment disorganization, a previous study by the current author found that compared to women who go on to have a secure attachment relationship with their infant, those who go on to have a disorganized attachment relationship identified more infant faces as expressing anger and fewer as expressing sadness. The current study aimed to expand on this research linking specific patterns of caregiver recognition of negative infant affect with subsequent caregiver-infant attachment outcomes. More specifically, I expected the above findings would generalize to a postnatal (non-exclusively primiparous) sample. I also tested whether these hypothesized effects were unique or overlapping with two existing predictors of attachment—i.e. the Caregiving Helplessness Questionnaire (George and Solomon, 2011) and Adult Attachment Interview (George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985). Counter to hypotheses, I did not find that maternal recognition of infant anger or sadness predicted infant-mother attachment. I did, however, find that maternal helplessness predicted attachment categorization, and that compared to the mothers who went on to have secure attachment relationships with their infants, those who went on to have disorganized attachment relationships labeled more ambiguous infant faces as surprised. The other two facets of caregiver helplessness (caregiver and child fright and child caregiving) and overall unresolved State of Mind scores did not significantly predict infant-caregiver attachment outcomes, nor did adding these predictors to a model including emotion recognition predictors change the pattern of results. Limitations that may explain these null results and future directions are discussed.