Parental Knowledge of Secure Base Scripts: Exploring Script-Based Attachment Representations and Correlates with Attachment Outcomes



McLean, Heather

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University of Guelph


A highly important component of attachment representations includes the cognitive script for what one expects to happen when experiencing distress. When caregivers effectively fulfill the role of acting as a secure base from which to explore and being a “safe haven” during distressing experiences, the secure base script (SBS) is internalized. While secure base scripts, and attachment representations more broadly, are theorized to exist at at both the relationship-specific level and as a more generalized representation, there is a considerable gap in the literature with respect to the relationship level of specificity. As the drive continues to further understand attachment representations and the mechanisms through which they are transmitted, this gap must be addressed. This dissertation aimed to do so by expanding our understanding of relationship-specific attachment scripts and their association with attachment outcomes within the mother-child dyad. Two studies were conducted, examining how mothers’ experiential, caregiver-specific knowledge of the secure base script with respect to their own parents were associated with established continuous measures of attachment representations, maternal sensitivity, and attachment security in their children. Across both a low-risk community adult mother sample (N = 61) and a high-risk, low SES adolescent mother sample (N = 78), participants’ most elaborated scripts with respect to their mothers were found to be positively associated with AAI coherence and AAI loving (mother) scales. These mother-specific scripts were further associated with maternal sensitivity (MBQS) and child attachment security (AQS) in the adolescent mother sample, though not in the community sample. Mothers’ most elaborated scripts with respect to their own fathers were associated with the AAI loving (father) scale across studies but were only associated with AAI coherence and maternal sensitivity in the community sample. Father-specific scripts were not associated with child attachment security in either sample. These mixed findings contribute to broadening our conceptual understanding of the representational complexity of attachment scripts and provide preliminary evidence for how mothers’ caregiver-specific attachment representations may contribute to attachment transmission.



attachment, secure base script, SBS, attachment representations, relationship-specific, caregiver-specific, adolescent mothers, mothers