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Recollections of parental behaviour, adult attachment and mental health: mediating and moderating effects

  • M. G. GITTLEMAN (a1), M. H. KLEIN (a1), N. A. SMIDER (a1) and M. J. ESSEX (a1)


Background. Attachment theory posits links between early experiences with parents, adult relationships and adult mental health, but does not specify whether these are independent, mediating, or moderating effects.

Methods. Associations of parent's behaviour on the Parental Bonding Instrument, adult attachment styles and three dimensions of mental health were investigated in a large sample of women and men.

Results. Men and women with secure styles recalled higher levels of care from both parents than those with fearful styles. Maternal and paternal control were more consistent predictors of increased distress for men than for women. Fearful and preoccupied adult styles were associated with higher levels of distress in both men and women. While adult styles had few mediating effects on the association of parental behaviour and mental health, interactions between the fearful style and parental variables suggested that this form of insecurity sometimes accentuated the impact of high parental care or low paternal control on mental health in both men and women; among women, however, the secure style seemed to buffer somewhat the negative effect of high parental control.

Conclusion. Although the amount of variance explained by either parental behaviour or adult styles was modest, patterns of moderating effects of adult styles on associations between parental behaviour and mental health suggested that both continuity and discontinuity principles can be applied to understanding these links.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Dr Majorie H. Klein, Department of Psychiatry, 6001 Research Park Boulevard, Madison, WI 53719, USA.


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