Frightened versus not frightened disorganized infant attachment: Newborn characteristics and maternal caregiving

Elena Padrón, Elizabeth A. Carlson, L. Alan Sroufe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The disorganized infant has been described as experiencing "fright without solution" (Hesse & Main, 1999, p. 484) within the attachment relationship. Using a sample at risk because of poverty (n = 157), this study evaluated the role of newborn characteristics in predicting disorganized attachment and explored the existence of 2 subgroups of disorganized infants, based on whether they display direct indices of fear. For the entire sample, regression analyses revealed that newborn characteristics did not predict ratings of disorganization directly or via moderation by caregiving. Regarding subgroups, it was hypothesized that, if direct expressions of fear resulted from interaction with a frightening or frightened caregiver, it could be expected that infants in the Not Frightened subgroup would become disorganized in part because of other factors, such as compromised regulatory abilities at birth. Results supported this hypothesis for emotional regulation, but not for orientation; infants in the Not Frightened subgroup displayed limited emotional regulation as newborns. Findings suggest that the disorganized attachment category may be comprised of 2 subgroups, with direct expressions of fear as the key differentiating factor. Specifically, disorganized infants who do not display direct fear in the presence of the caregiver may have started out with compromised emotional regulation abilities at birth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-208
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2014


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