Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Maternal Attributional Style and Infant Attachment

Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Maternal Attributional Style and Infant Attachment

Article excerpt

In Mary Ainsworth's (Ainsworth et al., 1978) seminal examination of maternal factors that shape the development of the caregiver-infant attachment relationship, maternal sensitivity, responsiveness, and appropriately stimulating play were associated with security of attachment. Mothers characterized as clinically depressed have been consistently reported to be low or inconsistent in these characteristics (e.g., Campbell et al., 2004; Martins & Gaffan, 2000; Teti, Gelfand, Messinger, & Isabella, 1995). Evidence suggests that one mechanism for the relationship between maternal depression and infant attachment may be via the mother's attributional style, or how one generally perceives control of positive and negative events in one's life (Peterson et al., 1982). Although individuals diagnosed with clinical depression typically present with a pessimistic attributional style (perceiving little or no control over events in their lives, or perhaps feeling responsible for primarily negative events), it has been suggested that nondepressed individuals may show a similar attributional style as a precursor to depression or evidence of mild (nonclinical) depression (Peterson et al.). The purpose of the present study was to explore the relationship in a low-risk sample between the mother's attributional style and the quality of the mother-infant attachment relationship to determine whether mothers perhaps prone to depressive thoughts and behaviors may be less likely to have secure attachment relationships with their infants.

First, an understanding of how maternal depression contributes to the quality of the attachment relationship is important. Maternal depression may influence infant functioning both directly and indirectly. As Egeland and Sroufe (1981) point out, a deviant childrearing environment, including possibly sad facial expression and flat or inconsistent affect in interaction with the child, parental maltreatment or neglect, and negative maternal attributions toward the child may all influence infant development. Even cognitive development may be affected. Kaplan, Bachorowski, and Zarlengo-Strouse (1999) found that child-directed speech produced by depressed mothers did not promote associative learning in young infants. Children of depressed parents are particularly likely to be faced with physical, or at least emotional, unavailability of parents, or unstable, ineffective interaction patterns for long, unpredictive periods of time (Cicchetti, Toth, & Rogosch, 1999). They are more frequently exposed to parental sadness and dysphoria, helplessness and hopelessness, and irritability and confusion than children of nondepressed parents (De Wolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997). Maternal depression has been associated with mothers' negative perceptions of (Barnett et al., 1999) and less engagement with (Campbell et al., 2004) their children. Mothers who are dysphoric have been reported to show less emotional expressivity as well with their infants (Halberstadt, Cassidy, Stifter, Parke, & Fox, 1995). In a large-scale NICHD Early Child Care Research Network study (1999), women with chronic symptoms of depression were less sensitive when observed playing with their children from infancy through 36 months than other mothers. Maternal insensitivity has been reported in samples showing a subjective feeling of helplessness in mothers (Spangler & Grossman, 1999). Even in prospective studies, a relation between maternal psychological unavailability (including separation or loss; Bowlby, 1980) and insecurity of attachment has been reported (Radke-Yarrow, 1991). Thus, the main constituents of sensitivity to infant bids for attention--promptness of response, consistency, and appropriateness (van den Boom, 1997)--are uncommon responses by depressed mothers.

Depressed individuals tend to have a negative view of the world, and this view may lead to a further propensity toward depression, as one feels more and more helpless in an uncontrollable world. …

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