Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Greg Moran


Attachment theory proposes that through repeated interactions with primary caregivers early in life, children develop representations of the self and others that influence various aspects of subsequent development. In particular, Bowlby proposed that children develop vulnerability to psychopathology such as depression based on these early experiences (Bowlby, 1980). Numerous studies using self-report measures with adult participants have supported these assertions: Individuals with non-secure attachment styles are more likely to experience low self-esteem and depression than those with non-secure attachments (Dozier, Stovall-McClough, & Albus, 2008). However, these studies say little about the developmental origins of such processes, and prospective longitudinal studies beginning in childhood are necessary to provide support for Bowlby’s proposal. Unfortunately, few such studies exist in the extant literature. The purpose of the current study was to add to the existing literature by examining associations between early attachment and both self-views and vulnerability to depression in early childhood.

The three studies in this set follow 70 children who were seen at three time points: 27 months, 42 months and 5.5 years. Mother-child attachment was assessed at the first two visits, and representations of the self and helpless responses to failure were examined at the latter assessment.

As predicted, children with a history of secure attachment possessed more positive self-views related to cognitive competence and displayed less helplessness following a disappointing social situation. Contrary to expectations however, there was no association between attachment quality and helplessness following achievement-based failure, and children with non-secure attachment displayed more positive self-views with regard to physical competence than their secure counterparts. Additionally, a change from secure to non-secure attachment over the first few years of life was associated with the least positive self-views and responses to failure.

These findings provide a more descriptive account of both self-views and responses to failure associated with early attachment quality than was previously available in the literature. The results are discussed in relation to existing theory and empirical research. This research has important implications for understanding developmental sequel associated with early attachment quality and also for clinical interventions aimed at improving outcomes for children with sub-optimal experiences in early attachment relationships.