Negative Perception of Babies Affects Adults' Attachment Problems 30-40 Years Later

Thirty years on – the babies judged negatively by their mothers
Posted by: “Dr. Gary” kirstensdadforever
Mon Mar 15, 2010 7:19 pm (PDT)

If a mother has a negative perception of her baby when it’s just one month
old, there’s a strong possibility that same baby will have attachment
problems as an adult, thirty or forty years later. That’s the claim of a
longitudinal study that recommends screening new mothers to see if they have
a negative perception of their child, so that any necessary action can be
taken to stop the transmission of attachment problems from mother to child.

Elsie Broussard and Jude
Cassidy recruited twenty-six adults in the area of Pittsburgh, whose mothers
had signed up to a longitudinal study up to forty years earlier. Back then,
in the 60s and 70s, the mothers had been asked to rate their one-month-old
babies on factors like crying, spitting, sleeping, feeding and
predictability, and then do the same for the ‘average baby’. Twelve of the
babies were judged to be at risk because their mothers had rated them more
negatively than an average baby. Back to the present, and the researchers
interviewed the adults using the Adult Attachment Interview, which includes
questions about memories of their childhood, their memories of separation
and loss and whether they felt affected by their parents’ behaviour. Based
on these kinds of questions, the participants were classified as being
securely or insecurely attached, the latter classification suggesting that
they have ongoing problems forming healthy emotional attachments to other

The key finding is that 9 of the 12 adults who, so many years earlier, had
been perceived negatively by their mothers were today classified as
insecurely attached adults, compared with just 2 of the 14 adults who’d been
positively perceived by their mothers. ‘…These findings reflect
transmission from one individual’s representational world to that of
another,’ the researchers said. In other words, the researchers believe that
a mother who views her baby negatively has attachment problems and these
problems tend to be passed onto that baby, even affecting his or her
attachment style thirty or forty years later.

How could a negative attachment style be transmitted in this way?
Apparently, earlier work in Broussard’s lab showed that ‘mothers with a
negative perception of their infants had limited awareness of their infant’s
states, had difficulties recognising their infant’s signals, and lacked a
flexible and effective range of responses.’ Moreover, the researchers
surmised, babies with mothers who perceive them negatively may fail to come
to see their mother as a secure base and may come to feel ‘rejected and
unloved, feelings that may contribute to an insecure state of mind [in
adulthood] with respect to attachment.’ Given their results, Broussard and
Cassidy suggested more professional support be given to new mothers,
especially during the critical early period between hospital discharge and
the next contact with medical staff.

As with so many studies that look for effects of parenting on children, this
study contains a serious confound that’s barely touched upon by the
researchers. The effects that Broussard and Cassidy attribute to parenting
and attachment style could well be genetic. We’re not surprised when the
children of tall parents grow up to be tall. Perhaps we shouldn’t be
surprised that the children of insecurely attached parents grow up to be
insecurely attached themselves.
____________ _________ _________ ___

ResearchBlogging. org
Broussard, E., &
Cassidy, J. (2010). Maternal perception of newborns predicts attachment
organization in middle adulthood. Attachment & Human Development, 12 (1),
159-172 DOI: 10.1080/14616730903 282464


How Mothers Can Prevent Mental Illness in their Children

This study reaches beyond .001 for the two groups — but don’t be too quick to conclude it is genetic. I have found similar findings with just the birth of a sibling, and there is a different set of symptoms related to age in months when the next child was born.

What the curent study might be measuring is increased separation traumas between mother and infant when the infant’s mother is not pleased with the infant’s development at age one month.