Reconsidering the attribution-adjustment relation following a major negative event: coping with the loss of a child

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1990 Nov;59(5):925-40. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.59.5.925.


Field studies have not yet conclusively established how attributions affect adjustment to unanticipated traumatic events. This may be due, in part, to the adoption of several untested assumptions in most prior research. It has usually been assumed that attributional issues are important to people who experience a traumatic event, that such concern is adaptive, and that specific attributions (e.g., self-blame) influence subsequent adjustment. These assumptions were tested with longitudinal data collected over 18 months from 124 parents whose child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. By 3 weeks postloss, 45% of parents were not concerned with attributional issues. These parents were less distressed and less likely to blame themselves or others for the death. Longitudinal analyses did not support the assumption that attributions influence subsequent adjustment. Rather, attributions to onself or others appear to be symptomatic of distress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Internal-External Control
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Personality Tests
  • Sudden Infant Death*