Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Developmental Course of Unresolved/Disorganized States of Mind in a Sample of Adolescents Transitioning into Parenthood

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Developmental Course of Unresolved/Disorganized States of Mind in a Sample of Adolescents Transitioning into Parenthood

Article excerpt

Attachment theory stipulates that early relationships with significant caregivers have an enduring influence on the development and maintenance of an individual's cognitive representation of attachment (Bowlby, 1982). Although much empirical attention has been devoted to the stability of the organized classifications in response to the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI; George, Kaplan, & Main, 1996), there is a paucity of research examining the stability of the Unresolved/Disorganized (hereafter referred to as Unresolved) classification and its associated scales of Unresolved Loss and Trauma, especially in high-risk samples in which the Unresolved classification is more prevalent (BakermansKranenburg & van IJzendoorn, 2009). The Unresolved classification is characterised by disintegration at the representational level of attachment. Individuals with Unresolved representations demonstrate significant lapses in the metacognitive monitoring of discourse or reasoning processes when discussing experiences of loss or trauma (such as childhood abuse or maltreatment). These lapses may take the form of confusion or disorientation when a significant death(s) or traumatic experience(s) is discussed (Main & Hesse, 1990). Such manifestations include sudden linguistic changes, confusion regarding time and space of the traumatic event or loss through death, the use of odd phrases or words to describe the trauma or loss, unsuccessful denial of the occurrence, sense of being causal in the trauma or death, as well as disoriented speech and psychologically confused statements regarding loss and/or traumatic experiences. The present study seeks to expand the current understanding of the Unresolved classification by investigating its stability, as well as exploring predictors of initial levels and rates of change in Unresolved loss and trauma scales across three time points during the developmental transition to parenthood, in a high-risk sample of adolescent mothers.

Theoretical and Empirical Support for Stability of Attachment Representations

Bowlby (1982) maintained that early interactions with caregivers shape and help solidify later attachment representations, which then serves to guide the subsequent organisation and processing of social experience and behaviour. Underlying cognitive representations of attachment, such as those measured on the AAI, have been observed not only to be stable over time (Benoit & Parker, 1994; Crowell, Treboux, & Waters, 2002) but also to have enduring effects on later attachment relationships, including interactions with one's children and intimate relationships with others (Haydon, Collins, Salvatore, Simpson, & Roisman, 2012). However, research has also demonstrated that attachment representations can be influenced and transformed by significant changes in experience, such as changes in the caregiving environment or family circumstances, or through the introduction of a positive relationship with a romantic partner (Fraley, Brumbaugh, Rholes, & Simpson, 2004; Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 1999).

Although considerable research has examined the stability of organized representations of attachment (as well as potential explanations for discontinuity in organized classifications), limited research exists on the stability and change of Unresolved representations of attachment.

The few studies considering the stability of Unresolved that do exist have yielded mixed findings. For example, Benoit and Parker (1994) examined the stability of Unresolved in a normative sample of pregnant adults across their developmental transition to parenthood and found that 62% of mothers retained their classification of Unresolved over a 1-year period, whereas Crowell et al. (2002) found a lower concordance (46%) of Unresolved across the developmental transition to marriage in a low-risk sample of adult couples. To date, we are aware of only two studies that have examined the stability of Unresolved in samples of higher risk. …

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