Maternal Attachment and Recognition of Infant Emotion
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Objective: The overall aim of this study was to investigate whether maternal emotion recognition of infant faces in a facial morphing task differed by maternal attachment style, and if this was moderated by a secure attachment prime, such that it would ameliorate the effects of maternal attachment insecurity. Method: 87 mothers of children aged 0-18 months completed measures of global and mother-specific trait attachment, post-natal depression, mood and state attachment alongside 2 sessions of an emotion recognition task. This task was made up of short movies created from photographs of infant faces, changing from neutral to either happy or sad. It was designed to assess sensitivity (accuracy of responses and intensity of emotion required to recognize the emotion) to changes in emotions expressed in the faces of infants. Participants also underwent a prime manipulation that was either attachment-based (experimental group) or neutral (control group). Results: There were no significant effects for global attachment scores (i.e., avoidant, anxious). However, there was a significant interaction effect of condition x maternal avoidant attachment for accuracy of recognition of happy infant faces. Explication of this interaction yielded an unexpected finding: participants reporting avoidant attachment relationships with their own mothers were less accurate in recognizing happy infant faces following the attachment prime than participants with maternal avoidant attachment in the control condition. Conclusions: Future research directions suggest ways to improve strength of effects and variability in attachment insecurity. Clinical implications of the study center on the preliminary evidence presented that supports carefully selected and executed interventions for mothers with attachment problems.