Trust in parental support and subsequent support seeking behavior, a hallmark of secure attachment, result from experiences with sensitive parents during distress. However, the underlying developmental mechanism remains unclear. We tested the hypothesis that trust is the result of an expectancy-learning process condtional upon contingency (the probability that caregiver support has a positive outcome). We developed a new paradigm in which a novel caregiver provides help to solve a problem. Contingency of the caregiver’s support was manipulated and participants’ trust in the caregiver and their help seeking behavior was measured in three independent samples. The hypothesis was supported suggesting that trust and support seeking result from an expectancy-learning process. These findings’ potential contribution to attachment theory is discussed.
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