Attachment style of children in foster care and its relationship to interpersonal cognitive complexity

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Turner, Laura
Medvene, Louis J.

Attachment, originally postulated by John Bowlby, is the deep and long lasting emotional connection established between a child and caregiver in the first several years of life. It is the result of the interactive relationship that naturally occurs between infants and their caregivers; it has lasting effects that are manifested throughout various stages of life. In the absence of adequate care giving, secure attachment does not develop. The very purpose of foster care indicates that children in that system have been deprived of adequate care giving. This study sought to document the distribution of secure versus insecure attachment styles for foster children. In order to do this, the Relationship Structure Questionnaire was utilized to classify a sample of foster children into either secure or insecure attachment categories. Additionally, this study attempted to assess the differences among children in foster care, categorized by attachment styles, in terms of their degree of interpersonal cognitive complexity. Interpersonal cognitive complexity is an individual difference variable in social information processing capacity. Individuals who are high in interpersonal cognitive complexity have relatively differentiated, abstract, and organized cognitive structures for describing and perceiving the thoughts and behavior of others. Highly developed interpersonal systems lend themselves to greater abilities in the acquisition, storage, retrieval, organization, and generation of information regarding other persons and social situations. The development of interpersonal cognitive complexity takes place naturally through the experience of living. Numerous parental qualities (e.g. style of discipline, expression of emotion, frequency of interaction, etc.) affect the development of this system. Although it has not been previously linked in research, studies regarding the development of highly complex interpersonal cognitive systems seem to connect optimal development with parenting qualities that are part of a secure attachment relationship. This study predicted that individuals with secure attachment styles would generally have higher levels of interpersonal cognitive complexity than those with insecure styles of attachment. The Role Category Questionnaire was used to determine the level of interpersonal cognitive complexity for each participant. Lastly, this project attempted to assess if there is a relationship between several foster care variables and attachment style and/or degree of interpersonal cognitive complexity. Specifically, age at initial entry into foster care, total number of placements experienced while in care, number of episodes in care, total number of months in care, and whether a child was placed with a familiar other were considered. Results of the study showed that 89% of participants scored in the .secure. category of attachment. This made the comparison of attachment groups on interpersonal cognitive complexity and .experience in foster care. variables impossible. A discussion follows that attempts to provide plausible explanations for the extraordinarily high percentage of participants who scored in the secure category. There were statistically significant negative correlations found with regard to length of time in foster care and number of placements with interpersonal cognitive complexity

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Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Psychology