Effects of Maltreatment on Young Children's Socioemotional Development: An Attachment Theory Perspective

J. Lawrence Aber, Joseph P. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects of maltreatment on early childhood development were examined in three domains suggested by attachment theory: relationships with novel adults, effectance motivation, and cognitive maturity. Three samples of children between 4 and 8 years of age were studied: 93 maltreated children, 67 demographically matched nonmaltreated children from families receiving welfare, and 30 nonmaltreated children from middle-class families. Children's scores on 10 dependent variables across the three domains of interest were factor analyzed, and two theoretically meaningful factors emerged. Maltreated children scored lower than welfare children, who in turn scored lower than middle-class children, on a factor measuring secure readiness to learn in the company of novel adults. Maltreated children and welfare children also scored higher than middle-class children, but did not significantly differ from each other, on a factor measuring outer-directedness. Results indicate that, during early childhood, maltreatment disrupts a dynamic balance between the motivation to establish safe, secure relationships with adults and the motivation to venture out to explore the world in a competency-promoting fashion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)406-414
Number of pages9
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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