Attachment security in infancy and early adulthood: a twenty-year longitudinal study

Child Dev. May-Jun 2000;71(3):684-9. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00176.


Sixty White middle-class infants were seen in the Ainsworth Strange Situation at 12 months of age; 50 of these participants (21 males, 29 females) were recontacted 20 years later and interviewed by using the Berkeley Adult Attachment Interview (AAI). The interviewers were blind to the participants' Strange Situation classifications. Overall, 72% of the infants received the same secure versus insecure attachment classification in early adulthood, K = .44, p < .001. As predicted by attachment theory, negative life events-defined as (1) loss of a parent, (2) parental divorce, (3) life-threatening illness of parent or child (e.g., diabetes, cancer, heart attack), (4) parental psychiatric disorder, and (5) physical or sexual abuse by a family member-were an important factor in change. Forty-four percent (8 of 18) of the infants whose mothers reported negative life events changed attachment classifications from infancy to early adulthood. Only 22% (7 of 32) of the infants whose mothers reported no such events changed classification, p < .05. These results support Bowlby's hypothesis that individual differences in attachment security can be stable across significant portions of the lifespan and yet remain open to revision in light of experience. The task now is to use a variety of research designs, measurement strategies, and study intervals to clarify the mechanisms underlying stability and change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Object Attachment*