Infants’ attachment insecurity predicts attachment-relevant emotion regulation strategies in adulthood.

Yuthika U. Girme, Rachael E. Jones, Cory Fleck, Jeffry A. Simpson, Nickola C. Overall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Infant attachment is theorized to lay the foundation of emotion regulation across the life span. However, testing this proposition requires prospective designs examining whether attachment assessed in infancy predicts emotion regulation strategies observed in adult relationships. Using unique data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, we examined whether infant attachment assessed at 12 and 18 months in the Strange Situation were associated with attachment-relevant emotion regulation strategies coded from video-recorded conflict discussions with romantic partners at ages 20, 23, 26, and/or 35. The current research first integrated the developmental and emotion regulation literatures to identify three specific attachment-relevant emotion regulation strategies. Balanced-regulation involves being open, approach-orientated, and engaging in collaborative problem-solving. Hypo-regulation involves suppressing emotions, disengaging from close others, and engaging in superficial problem-solving. Hyper-regulation involves exaggerating emotional expressions, ruminating, and being self-focused in processing issues. Compared to stable secure infants (secure at 12 and 18 months), stable insecure infants (insecure at 12 and 18 months) displayed worse balanced-regulation and greater hypo-regulation strategies, and unstable insecure infants (insecure at 12 or 18 months) displayed greater hyper-regulation strategies, in relationship-threatening situations 20–35 years later. Conceptually replicating these results, greater friendship insecurity at age 16 predicted worse balanced-regulation and greater hypo- and hyper-regulation strategies during relationship-threatening situations in adulthood. These findings highlight that infant attachment insecurity is associated with distinct emotion regulation strategies in adulthood 20–35 years later.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-272
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Institute on Aging

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Psychological Association


  • attachment insecurity
  • emotion regulation
  • infant attachment


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