Findings on Measures of Parental Bonding
Rather than explicitly measuring “attachment,” some studies used the term “parental bonding,” which was likely due to the desire to maintain language used by Hirschi (1969). The studies of “parental bonding” resemble, to a great degree, those of “attachment,” but the authors used a much looser assortment of indicators. There were 16 studies reporting associations between bonding and violence, and they were strongly supportive of an effect, with 10 reporting a PoC in the expected direction.
To us, parental sensitivity gets to the heart of the matter. Because indicators of the child’s attachment to parents are influenced by many factors, including parent behavior, child temperament, and outside experiences, looking directly at measures of parental sensitivity helps us hone down the association of greatest interest for intervention.
Measures of parental sensitivity included observer-rated sensitive responding, scales based on child/adolescent reports, and parent- report data. As we explained in Chapter 2, parental sensitivity requires the parent’s taking note of the child, attending to the child, and actively responding to the child when desirable: having an “ongoing awareness of ... signals and needs” (Goldberg, Lojkasek, Gartner, & Corter, 1989). Sensitive parents are accessible and accepting, while insensitive parents may ignore their child, fail to notice when the child has needs, or fail to respond in an active way when they do notice the child has needs. For older children, good communication, positive attention, and efforts for conflict resolution are also seen as indicators of sensitive parenting.
There were 10 studies reporting associations between parental sensitivity and violent behavior. Most of the samples consisted of very young children, but approximately four studied older children and one had an adult sample (Goldstein & Higgins-D’Alessandro, 2001). The findings are not noticeably different in any way across these age groups. The coefficients were consistently in the right direction (9 out of 10 studies), and six studies reported that the PoC was also statistically significant (27 out of 42 comparisons overall were thus). Of the 6 studies providing some form of multivariate analysis, 3 are strongly supportive, 1 finds that the association is significant for girls and null for boys, and 2 report multivariate findings in the right direction, but no longer statistically significant when the controls are imposed (Alink et al., 2009; NICHD, 2004).
We wish to highlight two studies. Lieberman et al. reported findings from an intervention study (Lieberman, Weston, & Pawl, 1991). Subjects in the treatment group underwent training to improve parental sensitivity. The authors reported that the intervention worked: parents in the treatment group were more sensitive, and attachment security improved in dyads in the treatment group. Furthermore, securely attached children were significantly less aggressive than anxiously attached children in both the treatment and comparison groups. In another important study of very young children, Campbell et al. (2010) found maternal sensitivity was predictive of aggression trajectories. This study is unusual for early childhood studies in that it had a large sample (n = 1,081), and the authors report a multivariate analysis controlling for early language ability, an indicator of ability to delay gratification (self-control), and maternal harsh control strategies. Like other studies of this age group, the analysis was longitudinal, measuring maternal sensitivity at 6 months and evaluating the physical aggression trajectory ending at age 54 months.