Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Lawrence C. Grebstein


Understanding of early relationship processes has been moving away from simplified linear relationships in favor of multifaceted approaches to child development (Moran & Pederson, 1992). Incorporation of these more dynamic models into the field of attachment research has been advocated (Mangelsdorf, et al., 1990), but not duly accomplished to date. Relations between maternal sensitivity and attachment outcomes are still expected to be linear, although empirical support for this notion is limited. Studies vary in methodology, findings and interpretation. Building on previous research (Schiller & Seifer, 1992), this study addressed methodological issues as related to assessment of maternal sensitivity and attachment constructs as well as placed their relationship within the context of family interaction.

Using videotaped data of 51 mother-infant dyads, we identified the relevant components of maternal sensitivity as related to attachment outcomes. Data consisted of (1) six weekly naturalistic observations of free-play interaction in the home at 6 months (2) Ainsworth Strange Situation at 12 months during a laboratory visit; (3) home-based Q-sort measures of attachment security derived from both maternal and observer reports; and (4) self-report and interview measures of family functioning. Scoring systems appropriate to each of these assessments were used. Multiple home assessments were used so that a series of observations could be aggregated to form reliable measures of the maternal sensitivity scales.

Results indicated that (1) aggregation of multiple home observations produces highly reliable and consistent measures of sensitivity (2) maternal sensitivity was related to both home (Q-sort) and laboratory (Ainsworth classifications) measures of attachment, although the Q-sort method produced more robust findings, (3) measures of family functioning were positively related to Q-sort attachment, but not to Ainsworth classifications of security, ( 4) Interview-based measures of family functioning were related to both sensitivity and observer-reported Q-sort security, while (5) Self-report measures of family functioning were related to mother-reported Q-sort security.

Current findings are discussed in the context of previous attachment research. Methodological as well as theoretical explanations are considered.



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