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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2013 Sep;39(9):1199-213. doi: 10.1177/0146167213491503. Epub 2013 Jun 28.

Attachment and parental divorce: a test of the diffusion and sensitive period hypotheses.

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Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 603 East Daniel Street, Champaign, IL 61820, USA.


One of the assumptions of attachment theory is that disruptions in parental relationships are prospectively related to insecure attachment patterns in adulthood. The majority of research that has evaluated this hypothesis, however, has been based on retrospective reports of the quality of relationships with parents-research that is subject to retrospective biases. In the present research, the authors examined the impact of parental divorce-an event that can be assessed relatively objectively-on attachment patterns in adulthood across two samples. The data indicate that parental divorce has selective rather than diffuse implications for insecure attachment. Namely, parental divorce was more strongly related to insecure relationships with parents in adulthood than insecure relationships with romantic partners or friends. In addition, parental insecurity was most pronounced when parental divorce took place in early childhood. This finding is consistent with hypotheses about sensitive periods in attachment development.


adult attachment; attachment styles; close relationships; parental divorce; sensitive periods

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