Journal of the Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences

Document Type



This study investigates the relationship between mothers’ and fathers’ sensitivity and infants’ attachment relations within the context of the family. Family Systems models (crossover model and circular causal model) were used to assess the transaction of parental sensitivity across the family subsystems (i.e., mother- infant and father-infant) boundaries. Sixty-six families with infants participated in two home visits to test these models. When infants were six months old, their parents’ sensitivity was assessed using multiple measures: standardized observation, self rating (efficacy), and rating by the spouse. At 18 months, infants’ attachment security was assessed using the attachment Q-sort (Waters 1987). Parental sensitivity was found to cross the subsystem boundaries, but in a different pattern for mothers and fathers. Partial support of the crossover model was found: Higher levels of maternal sensitivity predicted a more secure infant- father attachment relationship, whereas higher levels of paternal sensitivity predicted a less secure infant-mother attachment relationship. The circular model also received partial support: A negative relationship was found between mothers’ ratings of fathers’ sensitivity and the infants’ attachment security to mothers, whereas a positive relationship was found between fathers’ ratings of the mothers’ sensitivity and infants’ attachment security to mothers.