Sensitivity and attachment: a meta-analysis on parental antecedents of infant attachment

Child Dev. 1997 Aug;68(4):571-91.


This meta-analysis included 66 studies (N = 4,176) on parental antecedents of attachment security. The question addressed was whether maternal sensitivity is associated with infant attachment security, and what the strength of this relation is. It was hypothesized that studies more similar to Ainsworth's Baltimore study (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978) would show stronger associations than studies diverging from this pioneering study. To create conceptually homogeneous sets of studies, experts divided the studies into 9 groups with similar constructs and measures of parenting. For each domain, a meta-analysis was performed to describe the central tendency, variability, and relevant moderators. After correction for attenuation, the 21 studies (N = 1,099) in which the Strange Situation procedure in nonclinical samples was used, as well as preceding or concurrent observational sensitivity measures, showed a combined effect size of r(1,097) = .24. According to Cohen's (1988) conventional criteria, the association is moderately strong. It is concluded that in normal settings sensitivity is an important but not exclusive condition of attachment security. Several other dimensions of parenting are identified as playing an equally important role. In attachment theory, a move to the contextual level is required to interpret the complex transactions between context and sensitivity in less stable and more stressful settings, and to pay more attention to nonshared environmental influences.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Research Design
  • Touch