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Early Attachment Organization Moderates the Parent-Child Mutually Coercive Pathway to Children's Antisocial Conduct

Insecurely attached children showed more resentful opposition toward their mothers than did those with secure attachments.

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  • N: 101
  • Subject Ages: 7 months at recruit, followed until 67 months
  • Location: United States, Iowa
  • SES: Broad range of income and education
  • Eligibility: Two-parent families with normally developing children
  • Additional: 90% of mothers were white, 84% of fathers were white


  1. The child’s resentful opposition serves as a mechanism or mediator that accounts for links between parental power assertion and child future antisocial behavior.
  2. The early history of the parent-child relationship, reflected in the child’s attachment organization, moderates this mediational chain. 

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  • Children’s attachment security at 15 months - Strange Situation with both mothers and fathers
  • Mother’s and father’s power assertion in discipline contexts - 25 and 38 months coded contexts, in the lab during naturalist situations
  • Children’s resentful opposition at 52 months -
    • children’s defiance: coded contexts in the lab during Do and Don’t contexts
    • children’s negative emotional tone in interactions with parents: negative affect was coded during naturalistic observations
    • children’s unresponsiveness to parents: obtained by reversing the scores of the child responsiveness to parents coded during naturalistic observations
    • composite of children’s resentful opposition: the three scores were intercorrelated, therefore standardizing and aggregating them into one score for children and mothers and one score for children and fathers
  • Children’s antisocial disruptive behavior problems at 67 months -
    • the Child Symptom Inventory
    • the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits
    • the Macarthur Health Behavior Questionnaire
    • the Composite of antisocial and disruptive behavior




  1. For maternal and paternal use of power at 25 to 38 months, there was no effect of security.
  2. For children’s resentful opposition to mothers at 52 months, early security had a significant effect. Children who had been more insecure showed more resentful opposition than those who had been secure.
  3. For children’s resentful opposition to fathers at 52 months, there was no significant effect of early security.
  4. For parental ratings of children’s antisocial, disruptive behavior problems at 67 months, there were no effects of early security for either parent.
  5. The effect of parental power assertion with mothers and fathers on child future resentful opposition to the mother was significant for insecurely attached children, but not for secure children.


  • The participants were low-risk families where power assertion was generally low.
  • Typical strategies coded as power assertive included mildly forceful tactics that rarely, if ever, escalated to harsh physical punishment or threats.
  • Children’s antisocial problems were also generally infrequent.
  • The study was non-experimental, limiting the interpretations of the direction of the results.