Attachment theory posits that children’s interactions with caregivers contribute to internalized representations that reflects the common and recurring elements of sensitive caregiving interactions (i.e. the secure base script). These internalized representations are theorized to influence later adaptation, including the development of psychopathology. Given prior research suggesting that stress exposure may undermine secure base script knowledge (SBSK), this study evaluated SBSK development in early childhood as a mechanism by which childhood stress exposure may influence later adaptation. We hypothesized that children’s (N = 230; Mage = 73.30 months, SD = 2.51, 50% girls; 45.7% Latinx) stress exposure would be associated with lower levels of SBSK at age 6, which, in turn, would contribute to increased internalizing and externalizing symptoms at age 8. SBSK emerged as a significant mechanism by which early life stress may contribute to later externalizing, but not internalizing, child behavior problems. These findings highlight the role of SBSK as a profitable focus for both risk identification and intervention efforts aimed at reducing behavioral maladaptation among stress-exposed children.
- behavior problems
- secure base script
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health