Narrowing the transmission gap: A synthesis of three decades of research on intergenerational transmission of attachment

M.L. Verhage, C. Schuengel, S. Madigan, R.M.P. Fearon, M. Oosterman, R. Cassibba, M.J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.H. Van IJzendoorn

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Twenty years ago, meta-analytic results (k 19) confirmed the association between caregiver attachment representations and child-caregiver attachment (Van IJzendoorn, 1995). A test of caregiver sensitivity as the mechanism behind this intergenerational transmission showed an intriguing "transmission gap." Since then, the intergenerational transmission of attachment and the transmission gap have been studied extensively, and now extend to diverse populations from all over the globe. Two decades later, the current review revisited the effect sizes of intergenerational transmission, the heterogeneity of the transmission effects, and the size of the transmission gap. Analyses were carried out with a total of 95 samples (total N 4,819). All analyses confirmed intergenerational transmission of attachment, with larger effect sizes for secure-autonomous transmission (r=31) than for unresolved transmission (r =21), albeit with significantly smaller effect sizes than 2 decades earlier (r=47 and r=31, respectively). Effect sizes were moderated by risk status of the sample, biological relatedness of child-caregiver dyads, and age of the children. Multivariate moderator analyses showed that unpublished and more recent studies had smaller effect sizes than published and older studies. Path analyses showed that the transmission could not be fully explained by caregiver sensitivity, with more recent studies narrowing but not bridging the "transmission gap." Implications for attachment theory as well as future directions for research are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-366
Number of pages30
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number4
Early online date17 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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