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Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 1994;59(2-3):228-49.

Emotion regulation: influences of attachment relationships.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park 16802.


Emotion regulation and quality of attachment are closely linked. It has been proposed here that one influence on individual differences in emotion regulation may be a child's attachment history. Individuals characterized by the flexible ability to accept and integrate both positive and negative emotions are generally securely attached; on the other hand, individuals characterized by either limited or heightened negative affect are more likely to be insecurely attached. While acknowledging the role of infant temperament, I have focused on the role of social factors in examining the link between emotion regulation and attachment. The approach to emotion regulation taken here--that emotion regulation is adaptive in helping a child attain her goals--is esentially a functionalist approach (Bretherton et al., 1986; Campos et al., 1983), consistent with earlier views of emotions as important regulators of interpersonal relationships (Charlesworth, 1982; Izard, 1977). It has been proposed that patterns of emotion regulation serve an important function for the infant: the function of maintaining the relationship with the attachment figure. Emotion regulation has been described as serving this function in two ways. First, the function of maintaining the relationship is thought to be served when infant emotion regulation contributes to the infant's more generalized regulation of the attachment system in response to experiences with the caregiver. Infants who have experienced rejection (insecure/avoidant infants) are thought to minimize negative affect in order to avoid the risk of further rejection. Infants whose mothers have been relatively unavailable or inconsistently available (insecure/ambivalent infants) are thought to maximize negative affect in order to increase the likelihood of gaining the attention of a frequently unavailable caregiver. Both these patterns of emotion regulation help ensure that the child will remain close to the parent and thereby be protected. Second, the function of maintaining the attachment relationship is thought to be served when the infant signals to the parent that she will cooperate in helping maintain the parent's own state of mind in relation to attachment. The minimizing of negative affect of the avoidant infant signals that the infant will not seek caregiving that would interfere with the parent's dismissal of attachment. The heightened negative emotionality of the ambivalent infant signals to the parent that the infant needs her and thus helps maintain a state of mind in which attachment is emphasized. The approach to emotion regulation presented here is congruent with much work examining the socialization of emotions (Lewis & Saarni, 1985; Thompson, 1990).

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