Attachment status, affect regulation, and behavioral control in young adults

Date of Completion

January 2000


Psychology, Behavioral|Psychology, Clinical




The present study evaluates predictions based on the model of development of behavioral self-control proposed by Schore (1994), which suggests that children develop the abilities to regulate affect and control self-destructive behaviors in the context of primary attachment relationships. The model proposes that insecurely attached children do not fully develop the experience-dependent neuronal control pathways necessary for behavioral inhibition, which leaves them vulnerable to potentially lifelong difficulties with impulse control. To test these predictions, 198 college students were administered measures of sensory regulation, attachment status, and child abuse and trauma, as well as measures of hypothesized outcomes related to poor impulse control, including substance use, risky sexual behavior, bulimia, verbal aggressiveness, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms, as well as a measure of general psychological distress. Multiple regression was used to predict each hypothesized outcome as a function of sensory regulation and attachment status. The combination of attachment status and sensory regulation was significantly predictive of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use, bulimic symptomatology, and ADHD symptoms, but not other drug use, risky sexual behavior, or verbal aggressiveness. Sensory regulation was a more significant contributor to prediction than was attachment status, possibly due to psychometric limitations of the measure of attachment. Additionally, attachment status and sensory regulation appear to be equally predictive of general psychopathology, rather than specific to problems of poor impulse control. The second phase of the study compared the normative sample with a clinical sample of college students (n = 21) in treatment for substance abuse disorders. The clinical substance-abusing group did not differ from the normative sample in rate of insecure attachment classification or sensory regulatory capacity. The results suggest a more general model for the role of insecure attachment and poor sensory regulation in the development of general psychological symptoms, rather than being specific to the development of impulse control problems, and a direct impact of poor regulatory capacity as well as an indirect contribution mediated by attachment status is proposed. ^