Attachment and the transgenerational effects of loss, abuse and trauma: exploring and testing classic ideas through historical analysis and developmental science

Year of award: 2017


  • Lianne Bakkum

    University of Cambridge

Project summary

Since it was introduced by John Bowlby, attachment research has been among the most influential paradigms for understanding the social underpinnings of infant mental health and transgenerational mental health. However, a consequence of the way the model of attachment research was constructed in the 1980s by Mary Main has meant that it has largely treated loss, abuse and trauma as essentially equivalent, despite their very different clinical implications.

I will use a multidisciplinary approach to investigate these concepts and examine potential differences. I will make a critical re-examination of the concepts of loss, abuse and trauma in the published and unpublished works by John Bowlby and Mary Main, exploring their reflections on how these experiences might affect parenting. This hypothesis will be tested using individual participant data pooled from 59 attachment studies, representing 4,542 families. I will also test explanations for differential effects of unresolved loss, abuse and trauma on parenting and child development using longitudinal data from 400 mothers and children.

This study will shed new light on transgenerational mental health processes, and insights will be disseminated to professionals and families.