Development and Psychopathology


The role of attachment in the early development of disruptive behavior problems

Mark T. Greenberga1, Matthew L. Speltza2 and Michelle Deklyena2

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Washington

a2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine


This paper presents information pertaining to attachment processes as risk factors in the development of disruptive behavior in young children. In recognition of the fact that attachment is not the only or necessarily most important risk factor in the prediction of behavior problems, attachment is considered in the context of other domains of variables, including child biologic factors, family ecology, and parental management and socialization practices. Within the attachment domain, we describe three complementary processes that may lead to disruptive behavior: the information-processing aspects of affective-cognitive structures, the function of observable attachment patterns, and the motivational consequences of attachment security. The indirect effects of maternal representations of attachment on child disruptive behavior are also considered. Examples of protypical risk factor combinations involving attachment and other domains are provided. The implications of the attachment perspective for research and clinical work with young disruptive children are discussed.