Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Greg Moran


At the advent of attachment theory, John Bowlby hypothesized that cognition and emotion are shaped by early experiences with primary caregivers (Bowlby, 1980). This idea – that aspects of cognition may be organized within early relationships – still plays a prominent role in contemporary attachment theory. The studies described within this dissertation provide support for the idea that attachment security in infancy and adulthood are associated with differences in cognition – particularly with differences in the way that people attend to certain forms of stimuli. Mothers and children in the studies described here were first assessed for individual differences in attachment security. They were then administered the dot-probe paradigm in order to assess attention to infant pictures with varying emotional expressions (distressed, calm, and happy) versus pictures of neutral objects. Children classified as avoidant with their mother at one year of age rapidly attended towards infant picture stimuli and then moved their attention away to neutral object stimuli, and children classified as ambivalent with their mother at one year of age generally attended to infant picture stimuli over neutral object stimuli. Moreover, mothers that were more dismissive of attachment were more likely to attend towards neutral objects than to crying infant pictures. Taken together, these findings provide support for the notion that individual differences in attachment security are associated with differences in attention.