Woodhouse Article Top-Cited in Child Development

Wednesday, April 13, 2022 - 4:45pm

Susan Woodhouse, Ph.D., penned a top-cited article in Child Development, which is one of the top journals in developmental psychology, for 2020-2021.

Compelling longitudinal data have shown that secure infant attachment is linked to positive mental and behavioral health outcomes later on. Evidence has shown that this protective effect of secure attachment is particularly true in the context of the many risk factors that are faced by low-income families. For this reason, it is important to find ways to support low-income parents in raising children who are securely attached. This means that we need to better understand what kind care parents provide their children is most likely to lead to secure attachment, so that we can help parents proved that kind of care. Research, however, has shown that we are not particularly good at understanding the kinds of parenting that lead to secure attachment, especially in low-SES families.

The study by Woodhouse et al. (2020) challenged current paradigms for studying parenting that leads to secure attachment by examining a novel conceptualization of parental caregiving: Secure Base Provision. Typically, in the past we have understood parenting of infants in terms of sensitivity—the degree to which parents accurately understand babies’ signals, and promptly and appropriately respond to those signals. In contrast, Secure Base Provision is defined as the degree to which a parent is able to, in the end, meet an infant’s attachment needs, even when demonstrating high levels of insensitive parenting behavior.

The construct of Secure Base Provision is rooted in John Bowlby’s emphasis on the parent’s role in providing a secure base for exploration, and a secure base to which the child can return when needed. Secure Base Provision avoids emphasizing the importance of certain culturally bound parenting practices found in white, middle class samples (e.g., sweet tone of voice, moment-to-moment affective attunement), and does not pathologize other parenting practices (e.g., no-nonsense parenting).

Woodhouse et al. (2020) found that Secure Base Provision significantly predicted infant attachment, over and above sensitivity, with an effect size eight times larger than that of sensitivity in meta-analytic findings for low-SES families. These results have important public health implications because they provide important evidence for how we can best support low-income families in providing the parenting that is going lead to better outcomes for children. It will also allow us to better understand parenting strengths in low-income families.

Article: Woodhouse, S. S., Scott, J. R., Hepworth, A. D., & Cassidy, J. (2020). Secure base provision: A new approach to links between maternal caregiving and attachment. Child Development, 91(1), 249-265. doi: 10.1111/cdev.13224 


Research Focus: 
Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health
Field of Expertise: