RESIDENT: Predictors of Attachment Security and Attachment Insecurity in a Longitudinal Study of Prenatal-Preschool Children

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Presenting Author(s): Dr. Jennifer Woo

Co-Author(s): Henry Ntanda, Gerald F. Giesbrecht, and Nicole Letourneau

Date and time: 25 Mar 2023 from 15:25 to 15:40

Location: Hawthorn B  Floor Map

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand predictors of attachment security based on longitudinal research of mother-child dyads; 
  2. Understand predictors of attachment insecurity on longitudinal research of mother-child dyads;
  3. Hypothesize ways to use this information to provide evidence based interventions and in discussions with families.



Secure attachment is the result of consistent and sensitive care. It is essential for infant development into self confident, emotionally regulated, and well adapted adults. Conversely, insecure attachment, is thought to lead to challenges with dealing with stress and forming strong adult relationships. There is a gap in understanding what predicts secure compared to insecure attachment, and disorganized compared to non disorganized attachment.


To examine the factors that predict secure attachment, and the factors that predict insecure disorganized attachment.


Secondary analysis of longitudinal data was conducted on 222 mothers and their children, enrolled in the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition Study. Variables included maternal prenatal cortisol and prenatal and postnatal health data, as well as infant data up to 5 years of age. Bivariate correlations and multivariate regression models were examined.


Bivariate correlations revealed that preschoolers who are securely attached were significantly more likely to have had attentive parental care (OR 1.06, p = 0.02), and parents with lower anxiety at 3 months (OR 0.12, p = 0.05). Further, securely attached children had higher parent-child interaction as demonstrated by total NCAST score (1.03, p=0.05), and specifically parents who were more responsive to their infants distress (OR 1.29, p=0.05) and sensitive to their cues (OR 1.28, p=0.03). Disorganized children were also exposed to increased maternal prenatal cortisol in first (OR 1.01, p=0.04) and second trimester (OR 1.01, p=0.03). Multivariate models did not produce significant goodness-of-fit statistics, and require further exploration.


These results provide novel evidence that maternal cortisol in the first and second trimester, is predictive of disorganized attachment style in children. They also strengthen previous knowledge that attentive and responsive care contribute to secure attachment.

Literature References

  1. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss, Volume 1: Attachment. Attachment.
  2. Cooke, J. E., Stuart-Parrigon, K. L., Movahed-Abtahi, M., Koehn, A. J., & Kerns, K. A. (2016). Children’s emotion understanding and mother–child attachment: A meta-analysis. Emotion, 16(8), 1102–1106.
  3. Ainsworth, M. D. S. D. S., Blehar, M. C. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. In Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

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