Predicting adult physical illness from infant attachment: A prospective longitudinal study

Jennifer Puig, Michelle M. Englund, Jeffry A. Simpson, W. Andrew Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: Recent epidemiological and longitudinal studies indicate that attachment relationships may be a significant predictor of physical health in adulthood. This study is among the few to prospectively link attachment classifications assessed in infancy to physical health outcomes 30 years later in adulthood, controlling for various health-related confounds. Methods: Participants were 163 individuals involved in a 32-year longitudinal study of risk and adaptation who have been followed since birth. Attachment classifications were assessed at ages 12 and 18 months using the Ainsworth Strange Situation Procedure. Stability of attachment security was derived from these assessments. At age 32, participants completed a questionnaire asking about the presence of or treatment for current physical illnesses. Results: Binary logistic regression analyses controlling for health-related confounds at age 32 indicated that individuals who were insecurely attached (i.e., anxious-resistant or anxious-avoidant) during infancy were more likely to report an inflammation-based illness in adulthood than those classified as securely attached during infancy. There also was a trend whereby individuals classified as anxious-resistant reported more nonspecific symptoms in adulthood than those classified as either anxious-avoidant or secure. Individuals who were continuously insecure during infancy were more likely to report all types of physical illness in adulthood. Conclusion: These findings reveal the lasting effect of early interpersonal relationships on physical health and suggests that infancy may be a fruitful point for prevention efforts. The widespread influence that attachment has on endogenous and exogenous health-related processes may make it particularly potent in the prevention of later physical health problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-417
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Psychology
Volume32
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2013

Keywords

  • Developmental antecedents
  • Infant attachment
  • Longitudinal study
  • Physical illness

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