Skip to main content Accessibility help

New insight on intergenerational attachment from a relationship-based analysis

  • Heidi N. Bailey (a1), George M. Tarabulsy (a2), Greg Moran (a3), David R. Pederson (a3) and Sandi Bento (a3)...


Research on attachment transmission has focused on variable-centered analyses, where hypotheses are tested by examining linear associations between variables. The purpose of this study was to apply a relationship-centered approach to data analysis, where adult states of mind, maternal sensitivity, and infant attachment were conceived as being three components of a single, intergenerational relationship. These variables were assessed in 90 adolescent and 99 adult mother–infant dyads when infants were 12 months old. Initial variable-centered analyses replicated the frequently observed associations between these three core attachment variables. Relationship-based, latent class analyses then revealed that the most common pattern among young mother dyads featured maternal unresolved trauma, insensitive interactive behavior, and disorganized infant attachment (61%), whereas the most prevalent adult mother dyad relationship pattern involved maternal autonomy, sensitive maternal behavior, and secure infant attachment (59%). Three less prevalent relationship patterns were also observed. Moderation analyses revealed that the adolescent–adult mother distinction differentiated between secure and disorganized intergenerational relationship patterns, whereas experience of traumatic events distinguished between disorganized and avoidant patterns. Finally, socioeconomic status distinguished between avoidant and secure patterns. Results emphasize the value of a relationship-based approach, adding an angle of understanding to the study of attachment transmission.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Heidi N. Bailey, Department of Psychology, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road East, 4010 Mackinnon Extension, Room 3008, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada; E-mail:


Hide All
Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Atkinson, L., Goldberg, S., Raval, V., Pederson, D., Benoit, D., Moran, G., … Leung, E. (2005). On the relation between maternal state of mind and sensitivity in the prediction of infant attachment security. Developmental Psychology, 41, 42.
Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (1993). A psychometric study of the Adult Attachment Interview: Reliability and discriminant validity. Developmental Psychology, 29, 870879.
Bailey, H. N., Moran, G., Pederson, D. R., & Bento, S. (2007). Understanding the transmission of attachment using variable- and relationship-centered approaches. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 313343.
Bergman, L. R. (2002). Studying processes: Some methodological considerations. In Pulkkinen, L. & Caspi, A. (Eds.), Paths to successful development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bernier, A., Matte-Gagné, C., Bélanger, M. È., & Whipple, N. (2014). Taking stock of two decades of attachment transmission gap: Broadening the assessment of maternal behavior. Child Development, 85, 18521865.
Bernier, A., & Meins, E. (2008). A threshold approach to understanding the origins of attachment disorganization. Developmental Psychology, 44, 969982.
Block, J. (1961). The Q-sort method in personality assessment and psychiatric research. Springfield, IL: Thomas.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52, 664.
Cassidy, J., Marvin, R. S., & with the MacArthur Working Group. (1992). Attachment organization in preschool children: Procedures and coding manual. Unpublished manuscript, University of Virginia.
Collins, L. M., & Lanza, S. T. (2010). Latent class and latent transition analysis: With applications in the social, behavioral and health sciences. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Coyne, C. A., Langstrom, N., Lichtenstein, P., & D'Onofrio, B. M. (2013). The association between teenage motherhood and poor offspring outcomes: A national cohort study across 30 years. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 16, 679689.
Cyr, C., Euser, E. M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2010). Attachment security an disorganization in maltreating and high-risk families: A series of meta-analyses. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 87108.
DeOliveira, C. A., Bailey, H. N., Moran, G., & Pederson, D. R. (2004). Emotion socialization as a framework for understanding the development of disorganized attachment. Social Development, 13, 437467.
Duncan, G. J., Magnuson, K., & Votruba-Drzal, E. (2014). Boosting family income to promote child development. Future of Children, 24, 99120.
Fearon, R. P., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., van IJzendoorn, M. H., Lapsley, A.-M., & Roisman, G. I. (2010). The significance of insecure attachment and disorganization in the development of children's externalizing behavior: A meta-analytic study. Child Development, 81, 435456.
Finch, W. H., & Bronk, K. C. (2011). Conducting confirmatory latent class analysis using Mplus. Structural Equation Modeling, 18, 132151.
Fraley, R. C., & Spieker, S. J. (2003). Are infant attachment patterns continuously or categorically distributed? A taxometric analysis of Strange Situation behaviour. Developmental Psychology, 39, 387404.
Froming, W. J., Moser, R. P., Mychack, P., & Nasby, W. (1995). A control theory approach to social development. Social Development, 15, 261288.
Geoffroy, M.-C., Côté, S., Giguère, C.-E., Dionne, G., Zelazo, P. D., Tremblay, R. E., … Séguin, J. R. (2010). Closing the gap in academic readiness and achievement: The role of early childcare. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 13591367.
George, C., Kaplan, N., & Main, M. (1985). Adult Attachment Interview. Unpublished manuscript, University of California, Berkeley.
Haltigan, J. D., Roisman, G. I., & Haydon, K. C. (2014). The latent structure of the Adult Attachment Interview: Exploratory and confirmatory evidence. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 79(3, Serial No. 314), 15–35.
Haydon, K. C., Roisman, G. I., Marks, M. J., & Fraley, R. C. (2011). An empirically derived approach to the latent structure of the Adult Attachment Interview: Additional convergent and discriminant validity evidence. Attachment & Human Development, 13, 503524.
Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation and conditional process analysis. New York: Guilford Press.
Hesse, E., & Main, M. (2000). Disorganized infant, child, and adult attachment: Collapse in behavioral and attentional strategies. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48, 10971127.
Hinde, R. A. (1987). Individuals, relationships and culture: Links between ethology and the social sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jaffee, S., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Belsky, J., & Silva, P. (2001). Why are children born to teen mothers at risk for adverse outcomes in young adulthood? Results from a 20-year longitudinal study. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 377397.
Leadbeater, B. J., Bishop, S. J., & Raver, C. C. (1996). Quality of mother-toddler interactions, maternal depressive symptoms, and behavior problems in preschoolers of adolescent mothers. Developmental Psychology, 32, 280288.
Linzer, D. A., & Lewis, J. (2011). poLCA: An R package for polytomous variable latent class analysis. Journal of Statistical Software, 42, 129.
Linzer, D. A., & Lewis, J. (2013). poLCA: Polytomous variable latent class analysis. R package version 1.4 [Computer software]. Retrieved from
Linzer, D. A., & Lewis, J. K., Bronfman, E., & Parsons, E. (1999). Maternal frightened, frightening, or atypical behavior and disorganized infant attachment patterns. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 64(3, Serial No. 258), 6796.
Linzer, D. A., & Lewis, J. K., Bronfman, E., & Parsons, E. K., Yellin, C., Melnick, S., & Atwood, G. (2005). Expanding the concept of unresolved mental states: Hostile/helpless states of mind on the Adult Attachment Interview are associated with disrupted mother–infant communication and infant disorganization. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 123.
Madigan, S., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., van IJzendoorn, M. H., Moran, G., Pederson, D. R., & Benoit, D. (2006). Unresolved states of mind, anomalous parental behavior, and disorganized attachment: A review and meta-analysis of a transmission gap. Attachment & Human Development, 8, 89111.
Madigan, S., Moran, G., & Pederson, D. R. (2006). Unresolved states of mind, disorganized attachment relationships and disrupted interactions of adolescent mothers and their infants. Developmental Psychology, 42, 293304.
Madigan, S., Vaillancourt, K., McKibbon, A., & Benoit, D. (2015). Trauma and traumatic loss in pregnant adolescents: The impact of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy on maternal unresolved states of mind and posttraumatic stress disorder. Attachment & Human Development, 17, 175198.
Madigan, S., Wade, M., Tarabulsy, G. M., Jenkins, J. M., & Shouldice, M. (2014). Association between maltreatment history and adolescent pregnancy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55, 151159.
Main, M., & Goldwyn, R. (1998). Adult attachment rating and classification systems. Unpublished manuscript, University of California, Berkeley, Department of Psychology.
Main, M., Kaplan, N., & Cassidy, J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood, and adulthood: A move to the level of representation. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50(1–2, Serial No. 209), 66104.
Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1990). Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/disoriented during the Ainsworth Strange Situation. In Greenberg, M. T., Cicchetti, D., & Cummings, E. M. (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research, and intervention. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McLoyd, V. C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53, 185204.
Meade, C. S., Kershaw, T. S., & Ickovics, J. R. (2008). The intergenerational cycle of teenage motherhood: An ecological approach. Health Psychology, 27, 419429.
Moffitt, T. E., & the E-Risk Study Team (2002). Teen-aged mothers in contemporary Britain. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 727742.
Moran, G., Forbes, L., Evans, E., Tarabulsy, G. M., & Madigan, S. (2008). Both maternal sensitivity and atypical maternal behavior independently predict attachment security and disorganization in adolescent mother–infant relationships. Infant Behavior and Development, 31, 321325.
Moran, G., Pederson, D. R., & Krupka, A. (2005). Maternal unresolved attachment status impedes the effectiveness of intervention with adolescent mothers. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26, 231249.
Nylund, K. L., Asparouhov, T., & Muthén, B. O. (2007). Deciding on the number of classes in latent class analysis and growth mixture modeling: A Monte Carlo simulation study. Structural Equation Modeling, 14, 535569.
Pederson, D. R., Gleason, K. E., Moran, G., & Bento, S. (1998). Maternal attachment representations, maternal sensitivity, and the infant-mother attachment relationship. Developmental Psychology, 34, 925933.
Pederson, D. R., & Moran, G. (1995a). A categorical description of infant-mother relationships in the home and its relation to Q-sort measures of infant-mother interaction. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 60(2–3, Serial No. 244), 111132.
Pederson, D. R., & Moran, G. (1995b). A categorical description of attachment relationships in the home and its relation to Q-sort measures of infant-mother interaction. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 60(2–3, Serial No. 244), 247254.
Pederson, D. R., & Moran, G. (1996). Expressions of the attachment relationship outside of the strange situation. Child Development, 67, 915927.
Rhule, D. M., McMahon, R. J., & Spieker, S. J. (2004). Relation of adolescent mothers’ history of antisocial behavior to child conduct problems and social competence. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33, 524535.
Richters, J. E. (1997). The Hubble hypothesis and the developmentalist's dilemma. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 193229.
Roisman, G. I., Fraley, R. C. & Belsky, J. (2007). A taxometric study of the Adult Attachment Interview. Developmental Psychology, 43, 675686.
Schaffer, H. R. (1971). The growth of sociability. New York: Penguin.
Schwarz, G. (1978). Estimating the dimension of a model. Annals of Statistics, 6, 461464.
Sclove, S. L. (1987). Application of model-selection criteria to some problems in multivariate analysis. Psychometrika, 52, 333343.
SmithBattle, L. (2009). Reframing the risks and losses of teen mothering. American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 34, 122128.
Spieker, S. J., Larson, N. C., Lewis, S. M., Keller, T. E., & Gilchrist, L. (1999). Developmental trajectories of disruptive behavior problems in preschool children of adolescent mothers. Child Development, 70, 443458.
Spieker, S. J., Larson, N. C., Lewis, S. M., White, R. D., & Gilchrist, L. (1997). Children of adolescent mothers: Cognitive and behavioral status at age six. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 14, 335364.
Sterba, S. K., & Bauer, D. J. (2010). Matching method with theory in person-oriented developmental psychopathology research. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 239254.
Tarabulsy, G. M., Bernier, A., Provost, M. A., Maranda, J., Larose, S., Moss, E., Larose, M., & Tessier, R. (2005). Another look inside the gap: Ecological contributions to the transmission of attachment in a sample of adolescent mother-infant dyads. Developmental Psychology, 41, 212224.
Tarabulsy, G. M., Moran, G., Pederson, D. R., Provost, M., & Larose, S. (2011). Adolescent motherhood, maternal sensitivity and early infant development. In Davis, D. W. & Logdson, C. (Eds.), Maternal sensitivity: A critical review for practitioners. Haupauge, NY: Nova.
Tarabulsy, G. M., Provost, M. A., Larose, S., Moss, E., Lemelin, J.-P., Moran, G., Forbes, L., & Pederson, D. R. (2008). Similarities and differences in mothers' and observers' ratings of infant security on the Attachment Q-Sort. Infant Behavior and Development, 31, 1022.
van IJzendoorn, M. (1995). Adult attachment representations, parental responsiveness, and infant attachment: A meta-analysis on the predictive validity of the Adult Attachment Interview. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 387.
van IJzendoorn, M. H., Schuengel, C., & Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J. (1999). Disorganized attachment in early childhood: Meta-analysis of precursors, concomitants, and sequelae. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 225249.
van IJzendoorn, M. H., Vereijken, C. M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & Marianne Riksen-Walraven, J. (2004). Assessing attachment security with the attachment Q sort: Meta-analytic evidence for the validity of the observer AQS. Child Development, 75, 11881213.
Verhage, M. L., Schuengel, C., Madigan, S., Fearon, R. M., Oosterman, M., Cassibba, R., … van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2016). Narrowing the transmission gap: A synthesis of three decades of research on intergenerational transmission of attachment. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 337366.
von Eye, A. (2010). Developing the person-oriented approach: Theory and methods of analysis. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 277285.
von Eye, A., & Bergman, L. R. (2003). Research strategies in developmental psychopathology: Dimensional identity and the person-oriented approach. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 553580.
Ward, M. J., & Carlson, E. A. (1995). Associations among adult attachment representations, maternal sensitivity, and infant-mother attachment in a sample of adolescent mothers. Child Development, 66, 6979.
Waters, E. (1995). Appendix A: The attachment Q-set (version 3.0). Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 60(2–3, Serial No. 244), 234246.
Waters, E., Posada, G., Crowell, J., & Lay, K. L. (1993). Is attachment theory ready to contribute to our understanding of disruptive behavior problems? Development and Psychopathology, 5, 215224.
World Health Organization. (2014). World Health Statistics. Geneva: Author.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed