Caregiving antecedents of secure base script knowledge inferred from the Adult Attachment Interview: A comparative, pre-registered analysis

Marissa D. Nivison, Or Dagan, Cathryn Booth-LaForce, Glenn I. Roisman, Theodore E.A. Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attachment theorists claim that the quality of parental support is internalized as a mental representation of early relationship experiences. Increasingly, the content of attachment representations is evaluated by studying the extent to which adults demonstrate knowledge of the secure base script, either in the context of the attachment script assessment (ASA) or during the Adult Attachment Interview (AAIsbs). Preliminary evidence from a high-risk sample showed that AAIsbs was more strongly associated with the quality of antecedent caregiving than was the more traditional approach to the measurement of adult attachment focused on the coherence of adults' AAI discourse. Drawing on new coding of data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), we found that AAIsbs around age 18 years was significantly predicted by observations of maternal (r = 0.21) and paternal (r = 0.12) sensitivity assessed prospectively through age 15 years, and with attachment security in the first 3 years of life (r = 0.08). AAIsbs was also associated with existing measures of adult attachment (rs = 0.31–0.42). Pre-registered analyses revealed that AAIsbs performed in a manner roughly comparable to traditional, though more labour-intensive approaches to coding the AAI. Based on all available evidence from the SECCYD and the pragmatic challenges and advantages of different narrative methods for assessing adult attachment representations, researchers seeking to measure attachment representations should strongly consider the strengths of the ASA in term of practicality, performance, and adaptability to various age groups across development. Highlights: The present report examines the extent to which secure base script knowledge, as assessed by the Adult Attachment Interview (AAIsbs) has its origins in early caregiving experiences, and to report how AAIsbs performs in comparison to existing measures of adult attachment, in a large scale, normative-risks sample of adolescents. Data were drawn from the newly re-coded AAIs from the NICHD Study of Early Childcare and Youth Development. Overall, the AAIsbs system performs as well as traditional AAI measures, but researchers looking to examine adult attachment representations should consider using the Attachment Script Assessment both for its empirical and pragmatic advantages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2410
JournalInfant and Child Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2024


  • adult attachment interview
  • attachment
  • maternal sensitivity
  • secure base script knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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