Associations among Adult Attachment Representations, Maternal Sensitivity, and Infant-Mother Attachment in a Sample of Adolescent Mothers


  • Portions of these data were presented at the International Conference on Infancy Studies, Montreal, April 1990 and at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, April 1991. This research was supported by grants from the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs, U.S. Public Health Service (grant nos. APR-000928 and APR-000949). The authors wish to thank Susannah C. Altman, Nancy C. Botyanski, Janis Brody, Rhea H. Greenberg, Lauren V. Levine, and Susan W. Plunket for their help with coding data and running procedures. We also thank Mary Main for her encouragement and support of this research. Our deepest gratitude belongs to the women and children who shared their lives so generously with us in support of this work. Please send requests for reprints to Mary J. Ward, Box 578, the New York Hospital—Cornell Medical Center, 525 East 68 Street, New York, New York 10021.


Associations among adolescent attachment organization, maternal sensitivity, and infant attachment organization were examined prospectively in 74 teenaged mother-infant dyads. Pregnant teenagers' attachment organizations predicted both sensitivity and infant-mother attachments. Mothers classified autonomous (F) in the prenatal period showed higher levels of sensitivity at both 3 and 9 months than mothers classified dismissing (Ds), preoccupied (E), or unresolved (U). Correspondence between maternal attachment (F vs. Ds/E/U) and infant attachment (secure [B] vs. avoidant [A]/resistant [C]/ disorganized [D]) was observed in 58 of 74 (78%) dyads. Exact 4-group (Ds/E/F/U and A/B/C/D) agreement was observed in 50 of 74 (68%) families. In contrast, associations between maternal sensitivity and infant attachment were not significant, leading to questions about the processes that link attachment representations, maternal behavior, and infant attachment in adolescent mothers.