Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This study was an initial attempt to relate theoretically and empirically three heretofore independent developmental concepts— differentiation, attachment and competence. Borrowing from Mahler's thesis of separation-individuation, differentiation is thought to be a process which begins when the child separates himself from mother. It is hypothesized that differentiation begins at about six months within the context of a mother-child symbiotic relationship.

Once the infant has formed initial body boundaries he is then capable of forming a specific bond to his primary caretaker. This mother-child bonding has been labelled attachment by other theorists and is hypothesized to occur at about 9 months. Moreover, the quality of this attachment, which is determined by both infant and maternal variables, has been shown to relate to amount and quality of exploration as well as to cognitive growth.

Individuation consists of those achievements marking the assumption of the child's own individual characteristics. It is the evaluation of autonomy, perception, memory, cognition and reality testing. As a process, individuation is considered separate but intertwined with separation, reaching maturity at 3 years of age. Since this is relatively late in the ongoing process of growth and maturation, it is assumed to be affected by and related to the earlier accomplishments of differentiation and attachment.

Specifically, it was hypothesized that infant attachment behavior at age one and maternal personality variables would be predictive of attachment behavior, competency skills and degree of psychological differentiation at age three. These three latter variables were also expected to be significantly interrelated. Furthermore, infants grouped at age one according to the quality of the mother-child bond were expected to have significant differences in 3-year old degree of differentiation.

Subjects were 19 child-mother pairs who were observed in a laboratory situation at one and 3 years of age. The procedure consisted of 5 conditions where mother was present and unoccupied, a stranger was present, the child was alone, mother and child were reunited after separations and mother was present but occupied. Both exploration and social interactional behavioral frequencies were obtained. At the time of the first observation, mothers completed the Edwards Personal Preference Scale (EPPS). Also, resulting from codings of the first observation the infants were classified as either insecurely attached, securely attached or detached. At the time of the second observation mothers completed the Minnesota Child Development Scale (MCDI). Also, the Preschool Embedded Figures Test (PEFT), a measure of field-dependence, was individually administered to each child.

As predicted, there were significant differences in field- dependence between the two extreme quality of attachment groups, the detached group being more differentiated than the insecure attachment group. Factor analyses of the laboratory situation behaviors resulted in individual factor scores which were utilized in further analyses. Multiple linear regression analyses, predicting age three from age one variables were nonsignificant. Also nonsignificant were multiple regres sion analyses relating age three factor scores and MCDI measures to field-dependence.

Paradoxically, the individual significant relationships of field dependence to other variables indicated that it was related to both func tioning independently from mother and to advanced development. Although maternal autonomy was positively correlated to field-independence, it had its own negative relationships to these variables. Given the relationship of field-dependence to one-year-old insecure attachment, these relationships were expected to be in the direction opposite to what was found.

These findings were discussed within the framework of Mahler's theory, specifically the rapprochement crisis. Also presented was a discussion of field-dependence as a measure of perceptual-cognitive development and its possible relationship to early maturation.