Disorganized Behavior in Adolescent–Parent Interaction: Relations to Attachment State of Mind, Partner Abuse, and Psychopathology


  • This research was supported by NIMH Grant R01 MH062030 to K. Lyons-Ruth, by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to Ingrid Obsuth, and by Clinical Research Training Fellowships through NIH Grant T32 MH 16259-32 to Laura Brumariu and Katherine Hennighausen. Preliminary results were presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Philadelphia, 2009, and the Society for Research in Child Development, Montreal, Quebec, 2010. We are particularly indebted to the families who have given their time to participate in the study.


Disoriented, punitive, and caregiving/role-confused attachment behaviors are associated with psychopathology in childhood, but have not been assessed in adolescence. A total of 120 low-income late adolescents (aged 18–23 years) and parents were assessed in a conflict-resolution paradigm. Their interactions were coded with the Goal-Corrected Partnership in Adolescence Coding Scales. Confirmatory factor analysis demonstrated that the three disorganized constructs (punitive, caregiving, and disoriented interaction) were best represented as distinct factors and were separable from a fourth factor for collaboration. The four factors were then assessed in relation to measures of attachment disorganization, partner abuse, and psychopathology. Results indicate that forms of disorganized behavior first described in early childhood can also be reliably assessed in adolescence and are associated with maladaptive outcomes across multiple domains.