Adrenocortical Responses to the Strange Situation in Infants with Disorganized/Disoriented Attachment Relationships


  • Support for this research came from a National Institute of Health and Human Services Training Grant (HD07151-13) to Louise Hertsgaard, a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant (HD16494) and Research Career Award (MH00946) to Megan Gunnar, and a National Institute for Mental Health research grant to Byron Egeland and Martha Erickson (MH41879). We would like to thank all those who participated in gathering and coding the data as well as those who collected saliva samples for all the subjects. Thanks are especially due to Diane Bearman, Kathy Johnston, Joyce Moon, Maureen O'Brien, John Ogawa, and Anne Hunter Roe.

concerning this article should be directed to Louise Hertsgaard, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455.


Salivary cortisol levels were assessed in 19-month-old infants following the Ainsworth Strange Situation procedure. 38 infants participating in Project Steep at the University of Minnesota served as subjects. Project Steep is a longitudinal intervention program designed to promote healthy parent-child relationships and to prevent emotional problems among children born to mothers who are at high risk for parenting problems. Following the Strange Situation, saliva samples were collected and assayed for cortisol, a steroid hormone frequently examined in studies of stress. Behavior during the Strange Situation was coded by trained coders, and attachment classifications were determined for each infant. Cortisol concentrations did not differ between the 6 Avoidant/Resistant (A/C) and 17 Securely Attached (B) toddlers. Toddlers (n= 11) who were classified as having Disorganized/Disoriented (Type D) attachments exhibited higher cortisol concentrations than toddlers in the traditional (ABC) classifications. Results of this study were consistent with a model of stress reactivity that conceptualizes the organization of coping behaviors as a factor that mediates physiological stress responses.