David Pederson

Dr. David Pederson

Professor Emeritus - Cognitive, Developmental, and Brain Sciences

Email: pederson@uwo.ca

  • Research


The Nature, Origins, and Consequences of Attachment

Attachment theory, originating in the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, proposes that the quality of the relationship with her caregiver formed in the first year of life is instrumental in setting the human infant’s course of later social and emotional development. Over the past 20 years, research in our group has been driven by the core question of the origins of variations in this attachment relationship, in early mother-infant interaction and in the mental representations and childhood experiences of the mother. Our work with low-risk, community samples has provided some of the most compelling evidence in support of the suggestion that a secure, adaptive attachment relationship is a product of the sensitivity and responsiveness of the mother in the home. Our work also has also provided evidence that the quality of maternal interaction is largely influenced by the mother’s current mental representations of attachment that are, in turn, in large part a product of her own childhood experiences.

On the basis of our work with community mothers and their infants, we turned our attention to the special challenges faced by adolescent mothers and their infants, a population known to be at considerable developmental risk. Our two longitudinal research programs included home- and university-based observations. They involved interviews and questionnaires dealing with all aspects of the social interaction and relationships of mothers and their infants and of the mothers’ psychological functioning and childhood history. Forming the basis for our more recent publications, the results of this work have identified a variety of factors related to adaptive and maladaptive relationships, including naturalistic patterns of interaction in the home, patterns of atypical maternal behaviour, affect regulation, and maternal experiences of childhood trauma of a variety of kinds. We also have designed and evaluated a program of intervention in support of secure attachment relationships in both studies of adolescent mothers. We found that, although successful with a majority of mothers, those individuals who had shown evidence of unresolved experiences of childhood sexual and physical abuse were much less likely to benefit from our programs of support and intervention.

It is this latter finding that shaped the focus of our current longitudinal study of a sample of community mothers and their infants. Our objective in this program of research is to better understand the impact of childhood sexual and physical abuse and neglect on a mother’s state of mind regarding her relationship with her own infant and, in turn, its effect on the quality of that emerging relationship.

Some Related Research Links

Training Institute for the Adult Attachment Interview