Attachment Security in Pregnancy Mediates the Association between Maternal Childhood Maltreatment and Psychopathology in Offspring
Roth, Marissa Campbell
Stressful experiences in early life can adversely influence long-term behavior, including in ways that propagate to individuals’ offspring. The mechanisms by which early life stress exerts effects that span generations are not fully understood. Here, we asked whether insecure attachment style in mothers mediated the associations between their own exposure to early life adversity and internalizing and externalizing behaviors in their preschool-age children. One hundred and twenty-four women who had previously participated in a study in which they self-reported their attachment style during their pregnancies were re-contacted when their children were preschool age (i.e., 18-72 months). Ninety-six women (77%) provided data on both their own childhood maltreatment severity and their child’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms at preschool age. Secure maternal attachment mediated the relations between maternal childhood maltreatment severity and offspring internalizing and externalizing behavior. Greater maternal childhood maltreatment severity was associated with avoidant and anxious attachment; however, avoidant and anxious attachment did not mediate associations between maternal childhood maltreatment severity and offspring psychopathology. Given evidence that secure maternal attachment style mediates the association between childhood maltreatment severity and offspring psychopathology, maternal attachment style may be an important target for intervention efforts aimed at minimizing adverse intergenerational effects of early life adversity.