Direct and indirect effects of contextual factors, caregiver depression, and parenting on attachment security in preschoolers

Joyce Hopkins*, Karen R. Gouze, John V. Lavigne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The aim of this study was to develop a multiple-level-of-analysis model of preschool attachment security and to determine the processes (direct and indirect) whereby factors from different domains (e.g., stress and parenting) are related to attachment during this period. This study examined the direct and indirect effects of stress, family conflict, caregiver depression symptoms, and parenting on attachment security in a large (N = 796) and diverse sample of 4-year-olds. This study used the 3-Boxes Task to assess aspects of parenting critical to sensitivity in the preschool period, labeling this construct sensitivity/scaffolding. Parent-report questionnaires were used to assess stress, conflict, caregiver depressive symptoms, parent support/engagement, and parent hostility/coercion. Direct observation (3-Boxes Task) was used to assess sensitivity/scaffolding and attachment (Attachment Q-Sort) based on a 21/2-3 hour home visit. Results of structural equation modeling indicated a good overall fit for the model. Among the parenting variables, sensitivity/scaffolding had the strongest effect on attachment. Depressive symptoms had both direct and indirect effects (mediated by parenting). The effects of stress and family conflict were mediated by caregiver depression symptoms and parenting. These data show that a developmentally appropriate measure of sensitivity plays a significant role in attachment security in preschoolers. Thus, strategies designed to enhance sensitivity/scaffolding may increase child resilience by enhancing attachment security.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-173
Number of pages19
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • context
  • depression
  • parenting
  • preschool attachment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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