Syreeta Scott

Date Approved


Date Posted


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School


Committee Member

Alissa Huth-Bocks, PhD, Chair

Committee Member

Stephen Jefferson, PhD

Committee Member

Heather Janisse, PhD

Committee Member

Joshua Ehrlich, PhD


Despite longstanding theoretical associations in the attachment literature between early experiences of trauma, unresolved attachment representations, and mental health symptoms, few studies have explored associations between these variables, and findings amongst current studies are inconsistent. This study aimed to examine these relationships in a high-risk sample of mothers. It also explored relationships between aspects of trauma, such as type, severity, and age of exposure in relation to unresolved attachment representations. Possible moderating effects of mental health were also examined. Data for the study were collected as part of a larger longitudinal study on women’s transition to motherhood. The present study used data from the third trimester of pregnancy (T1) and 1-year (T3), 2-years (T4), and 3-years (T5) postpartum. Participants in this study included 74 diverse, primarily low-income women between the ages of 18 – 41 years (M = 27, SD = .35). Adult representations were assessed by a relatively new measure of adult attachment, called the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP; George, West & Pettem, 1999), which has not yet been widely used in the literature but has potential as a valuable research tool in the attachment field. Attachment-related traumas conceptualized by Kobak, Cassidy, and Ziv (2004) were examined and included physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, loss, and prolonged separations. Mental health symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder were also obtained. It was hypothesized that attachment-related trauma and mental health difficulties would be significantly related to unresolved representations. Unexpectedly, results revealed no significant differences between unresolved and resolved mothers on cumulative trauma or mental health (i.e., depression and PTSD symptoms). However, attachment security, as a continuous variable, was significantly related to mental health, such that higher security was related to fewer depression symptoms. The results are discussed in relation to two formal definitions of attachment trauma that have been articulated in the attachment literature. Recent theoretical developments about attachment trauma and the need for further investigations about the influence of childhood experiences on adulthood attachment representations are also discussed.