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Psychoanal Dialogues. 2012;22(3):352-374. Epub 2012 Jun 8.

On the Origins of Disorganized Attachment and Internal Working Models: Paper II. An Empirical Microanalysis of 4-Month Mother-Infant Interaction.

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  • 1New York State Psychiatric, Institute.

Abstract

A microanalysis of 4-month mother-infant face-to-face communication predicted 12-month infant disorganized (vs. secure) attachment outcomes in an urban community sample. We documented a dyadic systems view of the roles of both partners, the roles of both self- and interactive contingency, and the importance of attention, orientation and touch, and as well as facial and vocal affect, in the co-construction of attachment disorganization. The analysis of different communication modalities identified striking intrapersonal and interpersonal intermodal discordance or conflict, in the context of intensely distressed infants, as the central feature of future disorganized dyads at 4 months. Lowered maternal contingent coordination, and failures of maternal affective correspondence, constituted maternal emotional withdrawal from distressed infants. This maternal withdrawal compromises infant interactive agency and emotional coherence. We characterize of the nature of emerging internal working models of future disorganized infants as follows: Future disorganized infants represent states of not being sensed and known by their mothers, particularly in moments of distress; they represent confusion about both their own and their mothers' basic emotional organization, and about their mothers' response to their distress. This internal working model sets a trajectory in development which may disturb the fundamental integration of the person. The remarkable specificity of our findings has the potential to lead to more finely-focused clinical interventions.

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