Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Greg Moran


Although the study of attachment continuity has flourished over the last several decades, gaps remain in the literature. These include a dearth of studies that have examined: 1) how children differ in their patterns of continuity in attachment quality; 2) factors that underlie these patterns; and 3) the roles that infant characteristics, such as children’s levels of susceptibility to parenting influences, have in shaping attachment stability. Correspondingly, this dissertation aimed to identify children’s patterns of continuity in attachment quality across early childhood, and to elucidate the processes that influence the development of these different patterns. Using Latent Class Analysis (LCA), we found distinct groups of children within a middle-class sample (n = 63), each with a different pattern of attachment continuity: stable secure and stable insecure attachment trajectories. Further analyses revealed a path-model in which: 1) mothers who were more sensitive at each time-point tended to have children who were concurrently more secure; 2) mothers who were more sensitive at earlier time-points tended to be more sensitive across time; and 3) there were no direct associations between the qualities of children’s attachment relationships across time when the effect of maternal sensitivity was taken into account. Results also did not support the prediction that children’s levels of susceptibility to parenting mediated the influence of maternal sensitivity on their patterns of attachment stability. These results suggested that continuity in maternal sensitivity underlies continuity, or lack thereof, in the quality of children’s attachment relationships. Lastly, LCA was also used to identify patterns of attachment continuity in a high-risk sample of adolescent-mother-child dyads (n = 69). In contrast to the stable patterns observed from the low-risk sample, children from the high-risk sample exhibited attachment trajectories characterized by instability. The prevalence of unstable attachment trajectories in this high-risk sample is consistent with the prediction of greater volatility in maternal sensitivity of adolescent mothers that, in turn, may influence the development of unstable attachments. The current findings mapped out, for the first time, some of the attachment pathways that children traveled, and elucidated the influence of maternal sensitivity in maintaining children’s specific attachment trajectories.