Attachment disorder and attachment theory – Two sides of one medal or two different coins?

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Martin Schröder
  • Janine Lüdtke
  • Elodie Fux
  • Yonca Izat
  • Margarete Bolten
  • Gabriele Gloger-Tippelt
  • Gerhard J. Suess
  • Marc Schmid

Introduction: Currently, attachment quality and attachment disorder exist in parallel, but the mutual association is still insufficiently clarified. For policy makers and clinical experts, it can be difficult to differentiate between these constructs, but the distinction is crucial to develop mental-health services and effective treatment concepts. We aimed to investigate the association between attachment representations (AR) and attachment disorders (AD), including Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) in children aged between 5 and 9. Methods: A total of 135 children aged between 5 and 9 years (M = 7.17 years, SD = 1.40, 63% male) and their primary caregivers participated in the study. Children were interviewed with the story stem method to assess AR, and the primary caregiver completed diagnostic interviews and questionnaires on mental disorders, AD, emotional and behavioral problems, and intelligence and development. Results: The prevalence of AR in children with AD was 28.6% for the ‘secure’ form of AR, 17.1% for the ‘insecure-avoidant’ form, 25.7% for the ‘insecure-ambivalent’ form, and 28.6% for the ‘disorganized’ form. Prevalences of the various AR forms did not differ statistically significantly, indicating that AR is conceptionally distinct from AD. Children with disorganized attachment scored significantly lower on language and intelligence skills than children with secure attachment. AD was significantly associated with a higher number of comorbidities, emotional and behavioral problems, and lower language skills. Conclusions: Longitudinal studies using standardized assessment instruments are needed to systematically provide comparable and reliable empirical findings to improve current understanding of AR and AD as well as their etiological models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152139
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 11.2019

    Research areas

  • Attachment representations (AR), Attachment theory, Reactive attachment disorder (RAD), Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), Story stem method
  • Social Work and Social Pedagogics