Children’s secure base script knowledge as a mediator between early life stress and later behavior problems

Sarah K. Ruiz, Theodore E.A. Waters, Tuppett M. Yates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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; M age = 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)627-642
Number of pages16
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Attachment
  • behavior problems
  • psychopathology
  • secure base script
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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