State attachment variability across distressing situations in middle childhood

Martine W. F. T. Verhees, Eva Ceulemans, Marinus H. IJzendoorn, Marian J. Bakermans‐Kranenburg, Guy Bosmans

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Contemporary research suggests that attachment has both a trait-like, stable component, and a state-like component that varies across contexts. In the current study, we assessed state attachment variability across comparably distressing situations in middle childhood. In two samples, children reported their expectations of maternal support in each situation. Additionally, we administered trait attachment and psychological well-being measures. Results indicated that, overall, children varied in their expectations across situations: more than half of the variance was explained by intra-individual differences across situations. Results revealed two components underlying variability: a Signal-and-Support component reflecting expectations of support-seeking and receiving, and a Back-on-Track component reflecting expectations of stress reduction and comfort. State attachment variability was related to individual differences in trait attachment: children who are more securely attached at the trait level, overall appear to vary less in their state attachment, likely due to their high mean state attachment scores across situations. When the mean state attachment scores are accounted for, more securely attached children seem to vary more, suggesting that their state attachment expectations are more sensitive to contextual fluctuations. Importantly, degree of state attachment variability explained psychological well-being over and above trait attachment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-216
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Development
Issue number1
Early online date15 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • attachment
  • intra-individual variability
  • middle childhood
  • secure base script
  • well-being


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