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The latent structure of the adult attachment interview: Large sample evidence from the collaboration on attachment transmission synthesis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 October 2020

K. Lee Raby*
Department of Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Marije L. Verhage
Clinical Child and Family Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands
R. M. Pasco Fearon
Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, London, UK
R. Chris Fraley
Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA
Glenn I. Roisman
Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Marinus H. van IJzendoorn
Department of Psychology, Education, and Child Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Carlo Schuengel
Clinical Child and Family Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands
Sheri Madigan
University of Calgary and the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, Calgary, Canada
Mirjam Oosterman
Clinical Child and Family Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands
Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg
Clinical Child and Family Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands
Annie Bernier
Department of Psychology, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Karin Ensink
School of Psychology, Laval University, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
Airi Hautamäki
Social Psychology and Psychology, Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Uusimaa, Finland
Sarah Mangelsdorf
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
Lynn E. Priddis
School of Arts and Humanities, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Western Australia
Maria S. Wong
Department of Psychology, Stevenson University, Stevenson, MD, USA
Author for Correspondence: K. Lee Raby, Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 S 1530 E, Salt Lake City, UT84112, USA, E-mail:


The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) is a widely used measure in developmental science that assesses adults’ current states of mind regarding early attachment-related experiences with their primary caregivers. The standard system for coding the AAI recommends classifying individuals categorically as having an autonomous, dismissing, preoccupied, or unresolved attachment state of mind. However, previous factor and taxometric analyses suggest that: (a) adults’ attachment states of mind are captured by two weakly correlated factors reflecting adults’ dismissing and preoccupied states of mind and (b) individual differences on these factors are continuously rather than categorically distributed. The current study revisited these suggestions about the latent structure of AAI scales by leveraging individual participant data from 40 studies (N = 3,218), with a particular focus on the controversial observation from prior factor analytic work that indicators of preoccupied states of mind and indicators of unresolved states of mind about loss and trauma loaded on a common factor. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that: (a) a 2-factor model with weakly correlated dismissing and preoccupied factors and (b) a 3-factor model that further distinguished unresolved from preoccupied states of mind were both compatible with the data. The preoccupied and unresolved factors in the 3-factor model were highly correlated. Taxometric analyses suggested that individual differences in dismissing, preoccupied, and unresolved states of mind were more consistent with a continuous than a categorical model. The importance of additional tests of predictive validity of the various models is emphasized.

Regular Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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