Unraveling middle childhood attachmentrelated behavior sequences using a microcoding approach

Nadja Bodner*, Guy Bosmans, Jasmien Sannen, Martine Verhees, Eva Ceulemans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Attachment theory states that children learn to trust in their parent's availability and support if they repeatedly experience that their parents respond sensitively to their needs during distress. Attachment is thus developed and shaped by day-to-day interactions, while at the same time, each interaction is a momentary expression of the attachment relation. How attachment-related behaviors of mother and child follow upon each other during interactions in middle childhood, and how these sequences differ in function of attachment quality, has hardly been studied up to now. To fill this gap, we analyzed the micro-coded interaction of 55 mother-child dyads (27 girls, 28 boys, mean age: 10.3) after a standardized stress-induction. Results reveal that all mother-child dyads show a loop between positive mother and child behaviors. This pattern is complemented with a loop of negative mother and child behaviors in low-trust and more avoidantly attached children: these children tend to handle negative mother behavior less well as they show more negative behavior and less positive behavior in response to negative maternal behavior. More anxiously attached children also show less positive behavior, but react positively on collaborative interactions. The microcoded interactions thus reveal important insights that inform practitioners and advance attachment theory.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0224372
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2019


The research leading to the results reported in this paper was sponsored in part by two research grants from the Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders (FWO, https://www.fwo.be/; Project No. G066316N awarded to Eva Ceulemans and Francis Tuerlinckx; and Project No. G077415N, awarded to Guy Bosmans) and by the Research Council of KU Leuven (https://admin.kuleuven.be/ raden/en/research-council; C14/19/054 awarded to Eva Ceulemans). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

FundersFunder number
Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders
Fonds Wetenschappelijk OnderzoekG077415N, G066316N
KU LeuvenC14/19/054


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