Adult attachment style and cortisol responses in women in late pregnancy

BMC Psychol. 2016 Jan 11;4:1. doi: 10.1186/s40359-016-0105-8.


Background: Recent research has documented the association between attachment and cortisol rhythms. During pregnancy, when attachment patterns are likely to be activated, elevated levels of cortisol are associated with negative effects for the mother and the foetus. The aim of the present study was to examine the association of adult attachment style and cortisol rhythms in pregnant women.

Methods: Eighty women in the third trimester of pregnancy participated in the study. Adult attachment was assessed using the Adult Attachment Scale - Revised (AAS-R). Participants collected 4 samples of salivary cortisol at two different days; 3 samples were collected in the morning immediately after wakeup and one sample was collected by bedtime.

Results: Results found group significant differences in the cortisol diurnal oscillation (F (1,71) =26.46, p < .001,), with secure women reporting a steep decrease in cortisol from awakening to bedtime, while women with fearful avoidant attachment reported no changes. No group differences were found regarding the cortisol awakening response.

Conclusions: These results highlight the importance of considering attachment patterns during pregnancy, suggesting fearful avoidant attachment style as a possible risk factor for emotional difficulties and dysregulation of the neuroendocrine rhythms.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third / physiology*
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone