The relationship between attachment classification and care behavior in preschool children: An exploratory study

Martha Dixon Tucker, University of Pennsylvania


This is an exploratory study of the relationship between care behavior and attachment security. Caring behavior and how it is developed in individuals is critical to understanding how we relate to each other and how we are in the world. How care behavior comes to be represented in our internal working models guides how we respond to situations that require some form of caring response. It would seem that the development of caring behavior and the representations of it are related to attachment history. It is in the context of that relationship that the individual first has his own needs met. It is in this context that the child first experiences care. These first experiences with care are internalized and individualized and organized within the child's internal working model. This study attempts to tap into these mental representations of care by operationalizing care behavior as behavior observed in response to a given situation that calls for a caring response. It also uses teacher ratings of affect and social adjustment to assess how teachers view children's responses in the classroom. And it relates this data to attachment ratings of security derived from analysis of completions of attachment related story stems. Comparing and describing these data in a variety of ways sheds light on the relationship between attachment security and care behavior. While there is a tendency for securely attached children to perform more caring behaviors, more consistently, the most statistically significant relationship is between securely attached children and a particular kind of care, assistance. There is also evidence that insecure/anxious/disorganized children are more likely to demonstrate negative or noncaring behavior. Anxious/avoidant children would seem to be more inconsistent in their care behavior, capable of care behavior but having more negative behavior than their secure comparison group. The relationship is a complex one that is only verified by the divergence in teacher ratings of the children particularly with respect to negative affect and adjustment. An empirical study alone is insufficient to create new understandings. Rather, the research on care behavior must be conceptualized incorporating contextual factors. Children's affect often creates assumptions of their personalities and capabilities. How they are responded to and what they encounter affects their mental representations and behavior. Secure and insecure children may actually exhibit many of the same behaviors but be rated differently in a broader profile system like social adjustment. They may be performing similar behaviors but with very different motivations. The anxiety level at the heart of the attachment rating may be the key to how care behavior is differently represented and may help inform future study of the relationship. The physical setting and the new relationships with peers and teachers create environmental influences on the child's behavior. This study goes beyond the empirical to the contextual and identifies new ways of analyzing the meaning of care behavior in preschool children and influence on the behavior.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Preschool education

Recommended Citation

Tucker, Martha Dixon, "The relationship between attachment classification and care behavior in preschool children: An exploratory study" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3073063.