Table of Contents:

The findings of this study should be interpreted in the light of several limitations. This is the first brief review and preliminary meta-analysis that integrates studies on the relation between parental empathy and attachment, and the results provide leads for future research. Notably, it is not uncommon to conduct a metaanalysis on a small sample size if the scientific field is in need of knowledge integration in a particular subject area (see Rodenburg, Benjamin, De Roos, & Meijer, 2009). For instance, Letourneau et al. (2015), recently published a brief (narrative) review and meta-analysis of only seven trials examining the effects of interventions targeting maternal sensitivity and reflective function on secure child-mother attachment relationships, showing a positive mean overall effect. Nevertheless, the limited number of studies and effect sizes implies that this meta-analysis was underpowered to test within and between study heterogeneity of effect sizes, and subsequently conduct continuous and categorical moderator analyses with sufficient statistical power (Cafri, Kromrey, & Brannick, 2010). We therefore could not compare mean effect sizes in different subgroups in a reliable way (Rubio-Aparicio, Sanchez-Meca, Lopez-Lopez, Botella, & Marin-Martinez, 2017), which sets limits to possibilities for generalisation of our study findings. Moreover, the number of studies and effect sizes were insufficient to conduct reliable publication bias analyses.

In addition, all five studies were cross-sectional, which might inflate the association between parental empathy and child attachment to the extent that parental empathy is assessed as a state that might be affected by the child's attachment. All samples of the included studies were Western (i.e. three North-American samples, one Western-European, and one Israeli sample), which implies that the results of this meta-analysis camiot be generalised to non-Western populations. Further, the samples of the studies consisted of 90-100% mothers. This suggests that the results camiot be generalised to (Western) fathers. Notably, research by Bogels and Phares (2008) indicates that data concerning fathers' involvement in child-rearing is often missing, and such missing data must be regarded as "systematic”.


This brief review showed a significant positive relation between parents' empathy and the child’s attachment security. Being able to get a feeling of what your child feels might be a very strong driver to respond to his or her attachment needs.

Given the limited number of studies on the relationship between parental empathy

and child attachment, we stress the need for more research in this area.


Ainsworth, M. S. (1979). Infant-mother attachment. American Psychologist, 34( 10), 932.

Ainsworth, M. D., & Bell, S. M. (1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: Illustrated by the behavior of 1-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Dev elopment, 41, 49-67. doi:l 0.2307/1127388

Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Oxford: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Anderson, C., & Keltner, D. (2002). The role of empathy in the formation and maintenance of social bonds. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 21-22. doi:10.1017/ SO 140525X02230010

Assink, M., & Wibbelink. C. J. (2016). Fitting three-level meta-analytic models in R: A step-by-step tutorial. The Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 12(3), 154-174.

Black. K. R., & Leszczynsk, J. P. (2013). Development of child attachment in relation to parental empathy and age. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 18, 67-73.

Bogels, S., & Phares, V. (2008). Fathers’ role in the etiology, prevention and treatment of child anxiety: A review and new model. Clinical Psychologу Review, 28, 539-558. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.07.011

Borelli, J. L., Vazquez, L., Rasmussen, H. F., Teachanarong, L., & Smiley, P. (2016). Attachment and maternal sensitivity in middle childhood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33, 1031-1053. doi:10.1177/0265407515616280

Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss: Vol. 3. Loss, sadness and depression. New York: Basic Books.

Braungart-Reiker, J. M.. Garwood, M. M., Powers, B. P„ & Wang, X. (2001). Parental sensitivity, infant affect, and affect regulation: Predictors of later attachment. Child Development, 72, 252-270. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00277

Bretherton, I„ & Munholland, K. A. (1999). Internal working models in attachment relationships: A construct revisited. New York: Guilford.

Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Dev elopmental Psychology’, 28(5), 759.

Cafri, G., Kromrey, J. D., & Brannick. M. T. (2010). A meta-meta-analysis: Empirical review of statistical power, type I error rates, effect sizes, and model selection of meta-analyses. Psychology’, Multivariate Behavioral Research, 45, 239-270. doi: 10.1080/00273171003680187

Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P. R. (Eds.). (1999). Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. New York: The Guilford Press.

Cassidy, J., Jones, J. D., & Shaver, P. R. (2013). Contributions of attachment theory and research: A framework for future research, translation, and policy. Development and Psychopathology>, 25(4pt2), 1415-1434.

Cohen, D., & Strayer, J. (1996). Empathy in conduct-disordered and comparison youth. Developmental Psychology’, 32, 988-998. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.32.6.988

Coloimesi, C., Draijer. E. M., Stains, G. J. J. M., van der Bruggen, C. O.. Bogels, S. M., & Noom, M. J. (2011). The relation between insecure attachment and child anxiety: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 40. doi: 10. 1080/15374416.2011.581623

de Wied, M., Maas, C., van Goozen, S., Vermande. M., Engels, R., Meeus, W.,... Goudena, P. (2007). Bryant’s empathy index: A closer examination of its internal structure. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 23, 99-104. doi: 10.1027/1015-5759.23.2.99

de Wolff, M. S., & van IJzendoorn. M. H. (1997). Sensitivity and attachment: A metaanalysis on parental antecedents of infant attachment. Child Development, 68,571-591. doi: 10.1111/j. 1467-8624.1997. tb04218.x

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1982). Warfare, man’s indoctrinability and group selection. Zeitschrift ftir Tieipsychologie, 60(3), 177-198.

Ekman. P.. & Friesen, W. (1978). Facial action coding system: A technique for the measurement of facial movement. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists.

Fonagy, P. (2006). The mentalization-focused approach to social development. In J. G. Allen & P. Fonagy (Eds.), The Handbook of Mentalization-based Treatment (p. 53-99). New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Fonagy, P.. Gergely, G.. Jurist, E., & Target, M. (2002). Affect regulation, mentalization and the development of the self. New York: Other Press.

Fonagy, P., & Luyten, P. (2018). Attachment, mentalization, and the self. New York: Guilford.

Fraley, C. R. (2002). Attachment stability from infancy to adulthood: Meta-analysis and dynamic modeling of developmental mechanisms. Personality> and Social Psychologу Review, 6, 123-151. doi:10.1207/S15327957PSPR0602_03

Groh, A. M., Fearon, R. M. P, van IJzendoorn, M. H., Bakermans-Kranenburg. M. J., & Roisman, G. I. (2017). Attachment in the early life course: Meta-analytic evidence for its role in socioemotional development. Child Dev elopment Perspectives, 11. doi: 10.1111/ cdep. 12213

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’, 52,511-524.

Hoeve, M., Stains, G. J. J., van der Put. С. E., Dubas, J. S., van der Laan, P. H., & Gerris, J. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of attachment to parents and delinquency. Journal of Abnotvial Child Psychology, 40, 771-785. doi: 10.1007/s 10802-011-9608-1

Izard, С. E. (1979). MAX: The maximally discriminative facial movement coding system. Newark: University of Delaware Instructional Resources Center.

Johnson, S. C., Dweck, C. S., & Chen, F. S. (2007). Evidence for infants’ internal working models of attachment. Psychological Science Cambridge, 75(6), 501.

Joireman, J. A., Needham, T. L., & Cummings, A. L. (2002). Relationships between dimensions of attaclunent and empathy. North American Journal of Psychology’, 4( 1), 63-80.

Jolliffe, D., & Farrington, D. P. (2006). Development and validation of the Basic Empathy Scale. Journal of Adolescence, 29(4), 589-611.

Laible, D. (2007). Attaclunent with parents and peers in late adolescence: Links with emotional competence and social behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1185-1197. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2007.03.010

Lamb, M. E., Easterbrooks. M. A.. & Holden, G. W. (1980). Reinforcement and punishment among preschoolers: Characteristics, effects, and correlates. Child development, 1230-1236.

Leerkes, E. M., Crockenberg, S. C., & Burrous, С. E. (2004). Identifying components of maternal sensitivity to infant distress: The role of maternal emotional competencies. Parenting: Science and Practice, 4, 1-23. doi:10.1207/sl5327922par0401_l

Letoumeau, N., Tryphonopoulos, P.. Giesbrecht, G., Dennis, C. L., Bhogal, S., & Watson, B. (2015). Narrative and meta-analytic review of interventions aiming to improve maternal - child attachment security. Infant Mental Health Journal 36(4), 366-387.

Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson. D. B. (2001). Practical meta-analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lucassen, N.. Tliamer, A., van Ijzendoorn, M. H., Bakermans-Kranenburg. M. J., Volling, B. L., Verhulst, F. C.,... Tiemeier. H. (2011). The association between paternal sensitivity and infant - father attachment security: A meta-analysis of three decades of research. Journal of Family Psychology-, 25, 986-992. doi:10.1037/a0025855

MacLean. P. D. (1985). Brain evolution relating to family, play, and the separation call. Archives of General Psychiatry, 42, 405-417. doi:10.1001/archpsyc. 1985.017902700 95011

Madigan. S„ Brumariu, L. E., Villani, V.. Atkinson. L., & Lyons-Ruth, K. (2016). Representational and questionnaire measures of attachment: A meta-analysis of relations to child internalizing and externalizing problems. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 367. doi: 10.103 7/bul0000029

Main. M., & Solomon, J. (1986). Discovery of an insecure-disorganized, disoriented attaclunent pattern. In T. B. Brazelton & M. W. Yogman (Eds.), Affective development in infancy’ (pp. 95-124). Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing.

Main. M., & Solomon, J. (1990). Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/diso- riented during the Ainsworth strange situation. Attachment in the Preschool Years: Theory, Research, and Intervention, 1,121-160.

Meins, E. (2013). Sensitive attunement to infants’ internal states: Operationalizing the construct of mind-mindedness. Attachment & Human Development, 15, 524-544. doi: 10. 1080/14616734.2013.830388

Monica, E. L. L. (1981). Construct validity of an empathy instrument. Research in Nursing <6 Health, 4, 389-400. doi:10.1002/nur.4770040406

Nair. H., & Murray, A. D. (2005). Predictors of attaclunent security in preschool children from intact and divorced families. The Journal of Genetic Psychology>, 166, 245-263. doi: 10.3200/GNTP. 166.3.245-263

Oppenheim, D.. & Koren-Karie, N. (2002). Mothers’ insightfulness regarding their children’s internal worlds: The capacity underlying secure child - mother relationships. Infant Mental Health Journal, 23, 593-605. doi:10.1002/imhj.l0035

Oppenheim, D., Koren-Karie, N.. & Sagi, A. (2001). Mothers’ empathic understanding of their preschoolers' internal experience: Relations with early attachment. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25, 16-26. doi: 10.1080/01650250042000096

Panfile, T. M., & Laible, D. J. (2012). Attachment security and child’s empathy: The mediating role of emotion regulation. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 1-21.

Pietromonaco, P. R.. & Barrett, L. F. (2000). The internal working models concept: What do we really know about the self in relation to others? Review of General Psychology’, 4(2), 155-175.

Preston, S. D., & De Waal, F. (2002). Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 1-20. doi:10.1017/S0140525X02000018

Quinn, M. M. (1991). Attaclunent between mothers and their down syndrome infants. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 13, 382-396. doi: 10.1177/019394599101300308

Robinson, J. L., & Little, C. (1994). Emotional availability in mother-twin dyads: Effects on the organization of relationships. Psychiatry, 5 7,22-31.

Rodenburg, R.. Benjamin, A., De Roos, C., Meijer, A. M., & Stams, G. J. J. M. (2009). Efficacy of EMDR in children: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology’ Review, 29, 599-606. doi: 10.1016/j .cpr.2009.06.008

Rubio-Aparicio, M., Sanchez-Meca,J.. Lopez-Lopez. J. A., Botella, J., & Marin-Martinez, F. (2017). Analysis of categorical moderators in mixed-effects meta-analysis: Consequences of using pooled versus separate estimates of the residual between-studies variances. British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, 70(3), 439-456.

Sagi, A., & Hoffman, M. L. (1976). Empathic distress in the newborn. Developmental Psychology*, 12(2), 175.

Slade, A., Grienenberger, J., Bernbach, E., Levy, D., & Locker, A. (2005). Maternal functioning, attaclnnent and the transmission gap: Apreliminary study. Attachment <& Human Development, 7, 283-292. doi:10.1080/14616730500245880

Smith, A. (2006). Cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in human behavior and evolution. The Psychological Record, 56, 3-21. Retrieved from tpr/vol56/issl/l

Soenens, B., Duriez, B., Vansteenkiste, M., & Goossens, L. (2007). The intergenerational transmission of empathy-related responding in adolescence: The role of maternal support. Personality and Social Psychology’ Bulletin, 33(2), 299-311.

Stern, J. A., Borelli, J. L., & Smiley, P. A. (2015). Assessing parental empathy: A role for empathy in child attaclnnent. Attachment & Human Development, 17,1-22. doi: 10.1080/ 14616734.2014.969749

Stevenson-Hmde. J., Chicot, R., Shouldice, A., & Hinde, C. A. (2013). Maternal anxiety, maternal sensitivity, and attaclnnent. Attachment c£- Human Development, 15, 618-636. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2013.830387

Twemlow, S. W., Fonagy, P., & Sacco, F. C. (2005). A developmental approach to mental- izing conununities: I. A model for social change. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 69, 265-281. doi: 10.1521/bumc.2005.69.4.265

van Uzendoorn, M. H. (1995). Adult attachment representations, parental responsiveness, and infant attaclnnent: A meta-analysis on the predictive validity of the adult attaclnnent interview. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 1-17. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.387

van Uzendoorn, M. H„ & Bakermans-Kranenburg. M. J. (1997). Intergenerational transmission of attachment: A move to the contextual fere/. Retrieved from https://open

van Uzendoorn, M. H . & Wolff. M. S. (1997). In search of the absent father - meta-analyses of infant-father attaclnnent: A rejoinder to our discussants. Child development, 6S, 604-609. doi: 10.2307/1132112

Verhage, M. L., Schuengel, C., Madigan, S., Fearon, P., Oosterman. M., Cassibba, R.....

van Uzendoorn. M. H. (2016). Narrowing the transmission gap: A synthesis of three decades of research on intergenerational transmission of attachment. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 337-366. doi:10.1037/bul0000038

Wieczorek-Deering. D. E., Greene, S. M., Nugent, J. K., & Graham, R. (1991). Classification of attachment and its determinants in urban Irish infants. The Irish Journal of Psychology>, 12, 216-234. doi:10.1080/03033910.1991.10557839

Zeegers, M. A. J., Colonnesi, C., Stams, G. J. J. M., & Meins, E. (2017). Mind matters: A meta-analysis on parental mentalization and sensitivity as predictors of infant-parent attachment. Psychological Bulletin, 143(12), 1245-1272.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >