Maternal Contact and Cortisol: An Intervention in Childhood Attachment


Attachment is a critical process in the development of children that has important consequences in later life, varying from conduct disorders to cardiovascular illness (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970; Brown & Barlow, 2011). Attachment style, determined by infants’ and children’s observed behavior in the Strange Situation can vary from secure to disorganized, each with its positive and negative, respectively, repercussions in adulthood (ibid.). Various interventions aimed at increasing secure attachments or decreasing disorganized attachments have been created and tested by researchers to varying degrees of success. Generally speaking, interventions that are short-term, non-intensive, limited in scope, and target caregiver sensitivity have the strongest impacts, though multi-variate studies have shown significant results. Major limitations in these studies include small subject pools, targeting only one caregiver, confounds with normal maturation, and lack of random assignment or control groups.

One of the more interesting studies I found used cloth carriers as a means of increasing mother-child contact, thus increasing secure attachment (Anisfeld et al., 1990). Another study investigated whether the stress induced by insecure attachment styles might also increase levels of the stress-hormone cortisol (Dozier et al., 2008). High levels of cortisol in early childhood are known to dysregulate and increase cortisol production later in life, which can lead to cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and even heart attack (Whitworth et al., 2005). Combining these ideas, I proposed a study that investigates whether use of cloth carriers can reduce the production of stress hormones in children.

In order to address the methodological issues of previous studies, propose using a larger sample, random assignment, and a control group. I hope to reveal a significant correlation between maternal contact, increased attachment, and lowered cortisol levels among children.


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