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Prenatal adversity shapes child neurodevelopment and risk for later mental health problems. The quality of the early care environment can buffer some of the negative effects of prenatal adversity on child development. Retrospective studies, in adult samples, highlight epigenetic modifications as sentinel markers of the quality of the early care environment; however, comparable data from pediatric cohorts are lacking. Participants were drawn from the Maternal Adversity Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment (MAVAN) study, a longitudinal cohort with measures of infant attachment, infant development, and child mental health. Children provided buccal epithelial samples (mean age = 6.99, SD = 1.33 years, n = 226), which were used for analyses of genome-wide DNA methylation and genetic variation. We used a series of linear models to describe the association between infant attachment and (a) measures of child outcome and (b) DNA methylation across the genome. Paired genetic data was used to determine the genetic contribution to DNA methylation at attachment-associated sites. Infant attachment style was associated with infant cognitive development (Mental Development Index) and behavior (Behavior Rating Scale) assessed with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development at 36 months. Infant attachment style moderated the effects of prenatal adversity on Behavior Rating Scale scores at 36 months. Infant attachment was also significantly associated with a principal component that accounted for 11.9% of the variation in genome-wide DNA methylation. These effects were most apparent when comparing children with a secure versus a disorganized attachment style and most pronounced in females. The availability of paired genetic data revealed that DNA methylation at approximately half of all infant attachment-associated sites was best explained by considering both infant attachment and child genetic variation. This study provides further evidence that infant attachment can buffer some of the negative effects of early adversity on measures of infant behavior. We also highlight the interplay between infant attachment and child genotype in shaping variation in DNA methylation. Such findings provide preliminary evidence for a molecular signature of infant attachment and may help inform attachment-focused early intervention programs.
Intolerance of uncertainty (IU), the tendency to react negatively to uncertain situations, has been identified as an important cognitive component of anxiety disorders, yet little is known about its etiology. Links to temperament, particularly behavioral inhibition (BI), and insecure attachment have been proposed in the development of IU, but no prospective empirical investigation has been performed thus far. In the current study, attachment to caregiver and BI of 60 children were assessed at age 6, using observational measures. Mother's anxiety symptoms were assessed when participants were 14 years old. IU was reported by participants when they were 21 years old, as was neuroticism. Two types of insecure attachment (ambivalent and disorganized–controlling) and BI were positively related to IU over a 15-year span, even after controlling for participants’ neuroticism and maternal anxiety. Attachment and BI had no significant interacting effect on the development of IU. Maternal anxiety was positively related to child BI and insecure attachment, but not IU. This study is the first to provide empirical support for a link between ambivalent and disorganized–controlling attachment and BI in preschool children to the development of IU in adulthood. Results have etiological and preventative implications not only for anxiety disorders but also for all disorders related to IU.
Using a sample of 41 infants and toddlers (21 interventions, 20 controls) who were neglected or at serious risk for neglect, this randomized clinical trial examined the efficacy of a parent–child attachment-based video-feedback intervention on parental sensitivity, parental stress, and child mental/psychomotor development. Results showed that following the 8-week intervention, scores for maternal sensitivity and child mental and psychomotor development were higher in the intervention group than in the control group. The intervention appears to have no effect on self-reports of stress. All parents report lower levels of stress postintervention; however, when defensive responding is not considered (i.e., extremely low score of parental stress), parents in the control group report somewhat lower scores, raising questions as to the significance of this finding. Considering the small nature of our sample, replication of the present results is needed. Nevertheless, the present findings contribute to the burgeoning literature suggesting that the early attachment relationship provides an important context that influences developmental outcome in different spheres and raises questions as to how such intervention strategies may or may not affect the subjective experience of parenting.
Disorganized attachment is an important early risk factor for socioemotional problems throughout childhood and into adulthood. Prevailing models of the etiology of disorganized attachment emphasize the role of highly dysfunctional parenting, to the exclusion of complex models examining the interplay of child and parental factors. Decades of research have established that extreme child birth weight may have long-term effects on developmental processes. These effects are typically negative, but this is not always the case. Recent studies have also identified the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) as a moderator of childrearing effects on the development of disorganized attachment. However, there are inconsistent findings concerning which variant of the polymorphism (seven-repeat long-form allele or non–seven-repeat short-form allele) is most likely to interact with caregiving in predicting disorganized versus organized attachment. In this study, we examined possible two- and three-way interactions and child DRD4 polymorphisms and birth weight and maternal caregiving at age 6 months in longitudinally predicting attachment disorganization at 36 months. Our sample is from the Maternal Adversity, Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment project, a sample of 650 mother–child dyads. Birth weight was cross-referenced with normative data to calculate birth weight percentile. Infant DRD4 was obtained with buccal swabs and categorized according to the presence of the putative allele seven repeat. Macroanalytic and microanalytic measures of maternal behavior were extracted from a videotaped session of 20 min of nonfeeding interaction followed by a 10-min divided attention maternal task at 6 months. Attachment was assessed at 36 months using the Strange Situation procedure, and categorized into disorganized attachment and others. The results indicated that a main effect for DRD4 and a two-way interaction of birth weight and 6-month maternal attention (frequency of maternal looking away behavior) and sensitivity predicted disorganized attachment in robust logistic regression models adjusted for social demographic covariates. Specifically, children in the midrange of birth weight were more likely to develop a disorganized attachment when exposed to less attentive maternal care. However, the association reversed with extreme birth weight (low and high). The DRD4 seven-repeat allele was associated with less disorganized attachment (protective), while non–seven-repeat children were more likely to be classified as disorganized attachment. The implications for understanding inconsistencies in the literature about which DRD4 genotype is the risk direction are also considered. Suggestions for intervention with families with infants at different levels of biological risk and caregiving risk are also discussed.
Views regarding children's influence on their environment and their own development have undergone considerable changes over the years. Following Bell's (1968) seminal paper, the notion of children's influence and the view of socialization as a bidirectional process have gradually gained wide acceptance. However, empirical research implementing this theoretical advancement has lagged behind. This Special Section compiles a collection of new empirical works addressing multiple forms of influential child processes, with special attention to their consequences for children's and others’ positive functioning, risk and resilience. By addressing a wide variety of child influences, this Special Section seeks to advance integration of influential child processes into myriad future studies on development and psychopathology and to promote the translation of such work into preventive interventions.
The efficacy of a short-term attachment-based intervention for changing risk outcomes for children of maltreating families was examined using a randomized control trial. Sixty-seven primary caregivers reported for maltreatment and their children (1–5 years) were randomly assigned to an intervention or control group. The intervention group received 8 weekly home visits directed at the caregiver–child dyad and focused on improving caregiver sensitivity. Intervention sessions included brief discussions of attachment–emotion regulation-related themes and video feedback of parent–child interaction. Comparison of pre- and posttest scores revealed significant improvements for the intervention group in parental sensitivity and child attachment security, and a reduction in child disorganization. Older children in the intervention group also showed lower levels of internalizing and externalizing problems following intervention. This is the first study to demonstrate the efficacy of short-term attachment-based intervention in enhancing parental sensitivity, improving child security, and reducing disorganization for children in the early childhood period.
The association between attachment and behavior problems was examined for a nonclinical, diverse sociocconomic status (SES) French-Canadian sample of 77 children. Attachment classifications were assigned on the basis of reunion behavior with mother when the children were between 5 and 7 years of age. Teachers rated children's problem behavior using the Socioaffective Profile within 3 months of the attachment assessment (Time 2) and 2 years earlier (Time 1). Results indicated that children with a D classification were more likely than secures or other insecure groups (A or C) to be classified in the problem group at both ages. A majority (80%) of the D group showed problem behavior at some point during the 3–7 year period compared with a minority of A, B, or C children. However, only about 30% of controlling children (like other insecures) had stable problems. Analyses of subclinical scores showed that both controlling and avoidant groups were lower than secures in social competence at Time 1. At Time 2, A group children were lower in externalizing behavior, and C group children were higher. These results extend the association between the D classification and maladaptation previously found for clinical and high-risk samples to a nonclinical, mixed SES sample.
The predictive relation between attachment and mother, teacher, and
self-reported psychopathology was examined for a diverse socioeconomic
status French Canadian sample of 96 children. Attachment classifications
were assigned on the basis of reunion behavior with mother when the
children were approximately 6 years old, and child problem behavior was
assessed 2 years later using the Child Behavior Checklist (mother report),
the Social Behavior Questionaire (teacher report), and the Dominic
Questionnaire (child self-report). Results indicated that both
insecure/ambivalent and insecure/controlling children children
were rated higher than secure children on a composite measure of
externalizing problems. Concerning internalizing problems, only the
controlling group was significantly higher on both a composite adult
(teacher and mother) and self-report measure of internalizing problems.
Analyses of clinical cutoff scores showed that only the controlling group
had a significantly greater likelihood of overall problem behavior than
other children.This research was supported
by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada and from the Conseil Quebecois pour la Recherche Sociale. We thank
Jean Bégin and Elina Alexandrov for their invaluable assistance in
the research project.
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