Is parental attachment security contextual? Exploring context-specific child-parent attachment in relation to children’s psychological well/ill-being
: (Alternative Format Thesis)

  • Ya-Hsin Lai

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Attachment-related experiences with parents during later childhood and later adolescence have considerable and prolonged influence on personal growth, interpersonal relationships, and psychological well/ill-being. No research to date has explored the possibility of context-specific, within-person fluctuation in attachment security, especially within a specific child-parent relationship. The thesis is written as a collection of four research papers (combining three quantitative and one qualitative studies) to comprehensively investigate how context-specific attachment within a specific child-parent relationship in relation to children’s psychological outcomes with the intention of addressing gaps in the literature and advancing our understanding of the nature of context-specific attachment and how it relates to children’s well/ill-being through an approach of mixed-method methodology.
Study 1 was aimed to develop and validate the Traditional-Chinese version of contextual attachment scales to assess youth athletes’ attachment styles with a given parent within the context of sport (CAS-S) and academics (CAS-A) by employing two cross-sectional design. Results revealed that both scales can be considered as well-validated attachment instruments in their current version and have considerable contributions to existing attachment instruments and research in context-specific parental attachment.
Study 2 was aimed to explore fluctuations in within-parent attachment security between the contexts of sport and academics, in relation to global attachment patterns and indicators of psychological wellbeing by utilizing CASs validated in study one. Results indicated that youth can and do perceive within-parent attachment patterns differently depending upon context but that the relationship of such differences to context-specific outcomes is complex. Of particular interest was that the degree of within-parent attachment variability between contexts was clearly and negatively related to indices of psychological wellbeing. This suggests that contextual variation may be a meaningful and useful way to explore within-parent attachment fluctuation.
Study 3 was aimed to explore the mechanism of how perceived context-specific attachment influences youth’s self-concept and depressive symptoms through the mediating role of youths’ experiences of need satisfaction and need frustration in specific contexts. Results supported our expected primary and cross-context pathways in both of structural models, which (1) perceived sport-specific and academic-specific security can positively influence youths’ self-concept through their experiences of need satisfaction in the context of sport and academic respectively (bright pathway), (2) the influence of perceived sport-specific and academic-specific insecurity on youths’ depressive symptoms can be positively mediated by their experiences of sport-specific and academic-specific need frustration separately (dark pathways), (3) cross-contextual effects also can be found in both of the mediation models. Generally, this study expressed an important message, that is, the contexts of sport and academics could be two influential within-parent socialization platforms that concurrently exert unique and context-specific pathways responsible for shaping youths’ feelings of need satisfaction and need frustration in both contexts and ultimately linking to well/ill-being.
Study 4 was aimed to qualitatively explore the nature of contextual attachment within a child-parent relationship in relation to children’s psychological outcomes through the lens of Self-Determination Theory (SDT). Results showed that children’s perceived parental timely and sensitive responsiveness as well as empathetic concern relating to children’s sport and academic life were two common secure attachment characteristics across the contexts. In contrast, perceived parental over and unresponsiveness as well as lack of empathetic concerns were two shared insecure attachment features across two contexts. Furthermore, the possible explanations for parents’ contextually-different behaviours were (1) parents’ over-expectation / sensible expectation on children’s ability in academics and that might frustrate / fulfil children’s need for competence and autonomy in their academic-related activities, (2) parents’ perceptions of interest (enjoyment) / utility value of children’s participating in sport and that could be in relation to children’s need satisfaction / need frustration for competence and autonomy in children’s sport-related activities. Overall, the results indicated that the context-specific attachment could be considered as a promising concept to explore child-parent relationship fluctuation and how this variation might affect children’s psychological outcomes.
Date of Award13 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSam Carr (Supervisor) & Ceri Brown (Supervisor)

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