Primary Caregiver Theory

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The relationship between infants and their primary caregiver according to psychological theory has a significant impact on the infants’ development. While parental sensitivity is not likely to be the sole proximal factor responsible for at the attachment security of infants, as many other proximal and distal factors both contribute and interact, and that these factors will differ for mothers and fathers, it may still be a significant factor. A consensus must be reached as well on the definition of sensitivity, and differing methods of determining sensitivity may cause different aspects of sensitivity to be captured that may not reflect the concept as a whole. Use of the original definition provided by Ainsworth, Blechar, Waters, and Wall (1978)…show more content…
(1978) as most studies have focused on the mother-infant dyad. While the psychopathology of the primary caregiver may be a distal factor to attachment security and type, it has a direct impact on the level of maternal sensitivity and is significant as mothers’ may experience such conditions as post-partum depression. According to CDC statistics, postpartum depression has a prevalence of 11.5% in the Unites States ( and it is estimated that 17% of mothers with young children experience an increase in symptoms associated with depression (Horwitz, Briggs-Gowan, Storfer-Isser, & Carter, 2007). As psychopathology may impact the degree of maternal sensitivity, it can be used to observe the effect of sensitivity as a proximal factor of attachment strength. Belsky and Jaffee (2006) found that parents with a history of conduct disorders were also more likely to display suboptimal parenting. A meta-analysis of 35 studies with 2064 mother-infants dyads, by Atkinson, Paglia, Coolbaer, NIccols, Parker, and Guger (2000) that depression had an effect size of r=.18, suggesting a small but significant effect. Though this was greater for clinical samples than community samples, these results indicate that the effect is still present in both high-risk and low-risk groups, contracting Lickenbrock (2015) who suggested that sensitivity may only be a predictor of attachment security in high-risk homes. This is significant as effects are usually compounded with high-risk families, and so the effect of maternal sensitivity may be amplified in high-risk groups. Therefore the small but significant effect size in community samples in Atkinson et al. (2000), which is a low-risk group, as opposed to clinical samples, supports maternal sensitivity as being a significant

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