Early maternal sensitivity, attachment security in young adulthood, and cardiometabolic risk at midlife

Allison K. Farrell, Theodore E.A. Waters, Ethan S. Young, Michelle M. Englund, Elizabeth E. Carlson, Glenn I. Roisman, Jeffry A. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children who experience high-quality early parenting tend to have better physical health, but limited research has tested whether this association extends into adulthood using prospective, observational assessments. Likewise, mechanisms that may explain such links have not yet been illuminated. In this study, we test whether the quality of early maternal sensitivity experienced during the first 3½ years of life predicts cardiometabolic risk at midlife (ages 37 and 39 years) via attachment representations measured in young adulthood (ages 19 and 26 years). We do so by comparing the predictive significance of two different forms of attachment representations coded from the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI): (a) secure base script knowledge and (b) coherence of mind. Using data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, we find that early maternal sensitivity is negatively associated with cardiometabolic risk at midlife. Secure base script knowledge (but not coherence of mind) partially mediated this link. These findings are consistent with the possibility that early parenting has lasting significance for physical health in part by promoting higher levels of secure base script knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-86
Number of pages17
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2019


  • Parenting
  • attachment
  • cardiometabolic risk
  • coherence of mind
  • secure base script

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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