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Unresolved states of mind regarding experiences of loss/abuse (U/d) are identified through lapses in the monitoring of reasoning, discourse, and behavior surrounding loss/abuse in response to the Adult Attachment Interview. Although the coding system for U/d has been widely used for decades, the individual indicators of unresolved loss/abuse have not been validated independently of the development sample. This study examined the psychometric validity of U/d, using individual participant data from 1,009 parent–child dyads across 13 studies. A latent class analysis showed that subsets of commonly occurring U/d indicators could differentiate interviewees with or without unresolved loss/abuse. Predictive models suggested a psychometric model of U/d consisting of a combination of these common indicators, with disbelief and psychologically confused statements regarding loss being especially important indicators of U/d. This model weakly predicted infant disorganized attachment. Multilevel regression analysis showed no significant association between ratings of unresolved other trauma and infant disorganized attachment, over and above ratings of unresolved loss/abuse. Altogether, these findings suggest that the coding system of U/d may have been overfitted to the initial development sample. Directions for further articulation and optimization of U/d are provided.
We examined whether Research Domain Criteria (RDoC)-informed measures of prenatal stress predicted newborn neurobehavior and whether these effects differed by newborn sex. Multilevel, prenatal markers of prenatal stress were obtained from 162 pregnant women. Markers of the Negative Valence System included physiological functioning (respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA] and electrodermal [EDA] reactivity to a speech task, hair cortisol), self-reported stress (state anxiety, pregnancy-specific anxiety, daily stress, childhood trauma, economic hardship, and family resources), and interviewer-rated stress (episodic stress, chronic stress). Markers of the Arousal/Regulatory System included physiological functioning (baseline RSA, RSA, and EDA responses to infant cries) and self-reported affect intensity, urgency, emotion regulation strategies, and dispositional mindfulness. Newborns’ arousal and attention were assessed via the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Network Neurobehavioral Scale. Path analyses showed that high maternal episodic and daily stress, low economic hardship, few emotion regulation strategies, and high baseline RSA predicted female newborns’ low attention; maternal mindfulness predicted female newborns’ high arousal. As for male newborns, high episodic stress predicted low arousal, and high pregnancy-specific anxiety predicted high attention. Findings suggest that RDoC-informed markers of prenatal stress could aid detection of variance in newborn neurobehavioral outcomes within hours after birth. Implications for intergenerational transmission of risk for psychopathology are discussed.
This study evaluated whether Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC), a parenting intervention, altered the attachment representations of parents (average age of 34.2 years) who had been referred to Child Protective Services (CPS) due to risk for child maltreatment when their children were infants. Approximately 7 years after completing the intervention, parents who had been randomized to receive ABC (n = 43) exhibited greater secure base script knowledge than parents who had been randomized to receive a control intervention (n = 51). Low-risk parents (n = 79) exhibited greater secure base script knowledge than CPS-referred parents who had received a control intervention. However, levels of secure base script knowledge did not differ between low-risk parents and CPS-referred parents who had received the ABC intervention. In addition, secure base script knowledge was positively associated with parental sensitivity during interactions with their 8-year-old children among low-risk and CPS-referred parents. Mediational analyses supported the idea that the ABC intervention enhanced parents’ sensitivity 7 years later indirectly via increases in parents’ secure base script knowledge.
Children who have been adopted internationally commonly experience institutional care and other forms of adversity prior to adoption that can alter the functioning of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. In particular, internationally adopted children tend to have blunted diurnal declines compared to children raised in their birth families. The Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC) intervention was developed to enhance young children's biological and behavioral regulation by promoting sensitive parenting. The current study used a randomized controlled trial to assess whether ABC improved the diurnal functioning of the HPA axis among 85 children who had been adopted internationally when they were between the ages of 4 and 33 months (M = 16.12). Prior to the intervention, there were no significant differences in diurnal cortisol production between children whose parents were randomly assigned to receive ABC and children whose parents were randomly assigned to receive a control intervention. After the intervention, children whose parents had received the ABC intervention exhibited steeper declines in cortisol levels throughout the day than children whose parents had received the control intervention. These results indicate that the ABC intervention is effective in enhancing a healthy pattern of diurnal HPA axis regulation for young children who have been adopted internationally.
The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) is a widely used measure in developmental science that assesses adults’ current states of mind regarding early attachment-related experiences with their primary caregivers. The standard system for coding the AAI recommends classifying individuals categorically as having an autonomous, dismissing, preoccupied, or unresolved attachment state of mind. However, previous factor and taxometric analyses suggest that: (a) adults’ attachment states of mind are captured by two weakly correlated factors reflecting adults’ dismissing and preoccupied states of mind and (b) individual differences on these factors are continuously rather than categorically distributed. The current study revisited these suggestions about the latent structure of AAI scales by leveraging individual participant data from 40 studies (N = 3,218), with a particular focus on the controversial observation from prior factor analytic work that indicators of preoccupied states of mind and indicators of unresolved states of mind about loss and trauma loaded on a common factor. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that: (a) a 2-factor model with weakly correlated dismissing and preoccupied factors and (b) a 3-factor model that further distinguished unresolved from preoccupied states of mind were both compatible with the data. The preoccupied and unresolved factors in the 3-factor model were highly correlated. Taxometric analyses suggested that individual differences in dismissing, preoccupied, and unresolved states of mind were more consistent with a continuous than a categorical model. The importance of additional tests of predictive validity of the various models is emphasized.
Children adopted internationally experience adverse conditions prior to adoption, placing them at risk for problematic social–emotional development. The Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) intervention was designed to help internationally adoptive parents behave in ways that promote young children's social–emotional competence. Participants included 131 parent–child dyads randomly assigned to receive either ABC (n = 65) or a control intervention (n = 66). In addition, 48 low-risk biologically related parent–child dyads were included as a comparison group. At follow-up assessments conducted when children were 24 to 36 months old, internationally adopted children who received the ABC intervention had higher levels of parent-reported social–emotional competence than children who received a control intervention. In addition, observational assessments conducted when children were 48 and 60 months of age showed that internationally adopted children who received ABC demonstrated higher social–emotional competence than children who received a control intervention. Adopted children who received the control intervention, but not the ABC intervention, displayed more difficulties with social–emotional competence than low-risk children. Finally, postintervention parent sensitivity mediated the effect of ABC on observed child social–emotional competence in parent interactions, controlling for preintervention parent sensitivity. These results demonstrate the efficacy of a parenting-focused intervention in enhancing social–emotional competence among children adopted internationally.
Waters, Ruiz, and Roisman (2017) recently published evidence based on the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (MLSRA) that sensitive caregiving during childhood is associated with higher levels of secure base script knowledge during the Adult Attachment Interview (AAIsbs). At present, however, little is known about the role of variation in atypical caregiving, including abuse and/or neglect, in explaining individual differences in AAIsbs. This study revisited data from the MLSRA (N = 157) to examine the association between experiencing abuse and/or neglect in the first 17.5 years of life and secure base script knowledge measured at ages 19 and 26 years. Several aspects of abuse and/or neglect experiences were assessed, including perpetrator identity, timing, and type. Regressions revealed that childhood abuse and/or neglect was robustly associated with lower AAIsbs scores in young adulthood, above and beyond previously documented associations with maternal sensitivity and demographic covariates. Follow-up analyses provided evidence that the predictive significance of abuse for secure base script knowledge was specific to perpetration by parental figures, rather than non-caregivers. Exploratory analyses indicated that abuse and/or neglect: (a) in middle childhood and adolescence (but not infancy and early childhood) and (b) physical abuse (but not sexual abuse or neglect) were uniquely associated with lower AAIsbs scores.
Physiological regulation may interact with early experiences such as maltreatment to increase risk for behavior problems. In the current study, we investigate the role of parasympathetic nervous system regulation (respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA] at rest and in response to a frustration task) as a moderator of the association between early risk for maltreatment (i.e., involvement with Child Protective Services; CPS) and externalizing behavior problems in middle childhood. CPS involvement was associated with elevated externalizing problems, but only among children with average to high RSA at rest and average to high RSA withdrawal in response to frustration. Effects appeared to be specific to CPS involvement as the association between cumulative risk (i.e., nonmaltreatment experiences of early adversity) and externalizing problems was not significantly moderated by RSA activity. These findings are consistent with the theoretical idea that the consequences of early maltreatment for later externalizing behavior problems depend on children's biological regulation abilities.
We investigated whether neurobehavioral markers of risk for emotion dysregulation were evident among newborns, as well as whether the identified markers were associated with prenatal exposure to maternal emotion dysregulation. Pregnant women (N = 162) reported on their emotion dysregulation prior to a laboratory assessment. The women were then invited to the laboratory to assess baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and RSA in response to an infant cry. Newborns were assessed after birth via the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale. We identified two newborn neurobehavioral factors—arousal and attention—via exploratory factor analysis. Low arousal was characterized by less irritability, excitability, and motor agitation, while low attention was related to a lower threshold for auditory and visual stimulation, less sustained attention, and poorer visual tracking abilities. Pregnant women who reported higher levels of emotion dysregulation had newborns with low arousal levels and less attention. Larger decreases in maternal RSA in response to cry were also related to lower newborn arousal. We provide the first evidence that a woman's emotion dysregulation while pregnant is associated with risks for dysregulation in her newborn. Implications for intergenerational transmission of emotion dysregulation are discussed.
Research suggests intergenerational links between childhood abuse and neglect and subsequent parenting quality, but little is known about the potential mechanisms underlying intergenerational continuities in parenting. Adult romantic functioning may be one plausible mechanism, given its documented associations with both adverse caregiving in childhood and parenting quality in adulthood. The present study used data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation to (a) investigate prospective associations between childhood experiences of abuse and neglect and multiple parenting outcomes in adulthood, and (b) evaluate the degree to which adult romantic functioning mediates those associations. Information regarding childhood abuse and neglect was gathered prospectively from birth through age 17.5 years. Multimethod assessments of romantic functioning were collected repeatedly through early adulthood (ages 20 to 32 years), and parenting quality was assessed as participants assumed a parenting role (ages 21 to 38 years). As expected, childhood abuse and neglect experiences predicted less supportive parenting (observed and interview rated) and higher likelihood of self-reported Child Protective Services involvement. The association with interview-rated supportive parenting was partially mediated by lower romantic competence, whereas the association with Child Protective Services involvement was partially mediated by more relational violence in adult romantic relationships. Implications of these novel prospective findings for research and clinical intervention are discussed.
The current longitudinal study examined whether attachment states of mind and childhood maltreatment predict sensitive caregiving during infancy, early childhood, and middle childhood among a sample of 178 parents who were involved with Child Protective Services. Nearly all the parents had themselves experienced childhood maltreatment based on their reports on the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire—Short Form (Bernstein et al., 2003) when their children were infants. Adult Attachment Interviews (George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985) were administered to parents when their children were infants (M = 10.92 months, SD = 8.66). Parental sensitivity was rated based on observations of parent–child interactions at three time points: infancy, early childhood, and middle childhood. During infancy, dismissing states of mind of parents predicted marginally lower sensitivity scores than autonomous states of mind. In early and middle childhood, dismissing states of mind of parents predicted significantly lower sensitivity ratings than autonomous states of mind. Unresolved states of mind of parents predicted significantly lower sensitivity scores than autonomous states of mind only during early childhood. Childhood maltreatment was not significantly associated with parents’ sensitivity ratings at all three time points. Findings suggest that among parents with Child Protective Services involvement, most of whom had themselves experienced maltreatment, parents’ unresolved states of mind predict insensitive caregiving in early childhood, and parents’ dismissing states of mind predict insensitive caregiving from infancy through middle childhood.
Decades of fetal programming research indicates that we may be able to map the origins of many physical, psychological, and medical variations and morbidities before the birth of the child. While great strides have been made in identifying associations between prenatal insults, such as undernutrition or psychosocial stress, and negative developmental outcomes, far less is known about how adaptive responses to adversity regulate the developing phenotype to match stressful conditions. As the application of epigenetic methods to human behavior has exploded in the last decade, research has begun to shed light on the role of epigenetic mechanisms in explaining how prenatal conditions shape later susceptibilities to mental and physical health problems. In this review, we describe and attempt to integrate two dominant fetal programming models: the cumulative stress model (a disease-focused approach) and the match–mismatch model (an evolutionary–developmental approach). In conjunction with biological sensitivity to context theory, we employ these two models to generate new hypotheses regarding epigenetic mechanisms through which prenatal and postnatal experiences program child stress reactivity and, in turn, promote development of adaptive versus maladaptive phenotypic outcomes. We conclude by outlining priority questions and future directions for the fetal programming field.
The first aim of the current study was to examine the latent structure of attachment states of mind as assessed by the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) among three groups of parents of children at risk for insecure attachments: parents who adopted internationally (N = 147), foster parents (N = 300), and parents living in poverty and involved with Child Protective Services (CPS; N = 284). Confirmatory factor analysis indicated the state of mind rating scales loaded on two factors reflecting adults’ preoccupied and dismissing states of mind. Taxometric analyses indicated the variation in adults’ preoccupied states of mind was more consistent with a dimensional than a categorical model, whereas results for dismissing states of mind were indeterminate. The second aim was to examine the degree to which the attachment states of mind of internationally adoptive and foster parents differ from those of poverty/CPS-referred parents and low-risk parents. After controlling for parental age, sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, (a) internationally adoptive parents had lower scores on the dismissing dimension than the sample of community parents described by Haltigan, Leerkes, Supple, and Calkins (2014); (b) foster parents did not differ from community parents on either the dismissing or the preoccupied AAI dimension; and (c) both internationally adoptive and foster parents had lower scores on the preoccupied dimension than poverty/CPS-referred parents. Analyses using the traditional AAI categories provided convergent evidence that (a) internationally adoptive parents were more likely to be classified as having an autonomous state of mind than low-risk North American mothers based on Bakermans-Kranenburg and van IJzendoorn's (2009) meta-analytic estimates, (b) the rates of autonomous states of mind did not differ between foster and low-risk parents, and (c) both internationally adoptive and foster parents were less likely to be classified as having a preoccupied state of mind than poverty/CPS-referred parents.
The present report used data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation to investigate the factor structure and childhood abuse and/or neglect related antecedents of adults’ attachment states of mind in a high-risk sample. Adult Attachment Interviews (AAIs) were collected when participants were age 26 years (N = 164) and Current Relationship Interviews (CRIs) were collected from participants (N = 116) and their romantic partners when target participants were between ages 20 and 28 years (M = 25.3 years). For both the AAI and the CRI, exploratory factor analyses revealed that (a) attachment state of mind scales loaded on two weakly correlated dimensions reflecting dismissing and preoccupied states of mind and (b) ratings of unresolved discourse loaded on the same factor as indicators of preoccupied states of mind. Experiencing any subtype of abuse and/or neglect, especially during multiple developmental periods, and experiencing multiple subtypes of abuse and/or neglect during childhood were associated with risk for preoccupied (but not dismissing) AAI states of mind regarding childhood relationships with caregivers. Analyses focused on the particular subtypes, and perpetrators indicated that the predictive significance of childhood abuse/neglect for adult's AAI preoccupied states of mind was specific to experiences of abuse (but not neglect) perpetrated by primary caregivers. In addition, experiencing chronic or multiple subtypes of childhood abuse and/or neglect increased risk for dismissing (but not preoccupied) CRI states of mind regarding adult romantic partners.
Young children in foster care often experience adversity, such as maltreatment and lack of stability in early caregiving relationships. As a result, these children are at risk for a range of problems, including deficits in executive functioning. The Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up for Toddlers (ABC-T) intervention was designed to help foster parents behave in ways that promote the development of young children's emerging self-regulatory capabilities. Participants included 173 parent–toddler dyads in three groups: foster families that were randomly assigned to receive either the ABC-T intervention (n = 63) or a control intervention (n = 58), as well as low-risk parent–toddler dyads from intact families (n = 52). At a follow-up conducted when children were approximately 48 months old, children's executive functioning abilities were assessed with the attention problems scale of the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000) and a graded version of the Dimensional Change Card Sort developed for preschoolers (Beck, Schaefer, Pang, & Carlson, 2011). Results showed that foster children whose parents received the ABC-T intervention and low-risk children never placed in foster care had fewer parent-reported attention problems and demonstrated greater cognitive flexibility during the Dimensional Change Card Sort than foster children whose parents received the control intervention. These results indicate that an attachment-based intervention implemented among toddlers in foster care is effective in enhancing children's executive functioning capabilities.