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Mother-son relationship key to emotional development – University of Reading

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Mother-son relationship key to emotional development

Release Date 25 March 2010

Mother and son

New research from the University of Reading says that children, especially boys, who have insecure attachments to their mothers in the early years have more behaviour problems later in childhood.

The analysis by Dr Pasco Fearon, from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, looked at 69 studies involving almost 6,000 children aged 12 and younger.

The quality of the relationship between children and their parents is important to children's development, but past research on the link between attachment and development has been inconsistent. The volume, range and diversity of earlier studies made it difficult to get a clear picture. However this new analysis has been able to pull together evidence from past research to answer a number of scientific questions around attachment.

According to attachment theory, children with secure attachments expect and receive support and comfort from their care givers. In contrast, children with insecure attachments have requests discouraged, rejected, or responded to inconsistently, which is thought to make them vulnerable to developing behavioural problems.

The new research sought to clarify the extent to which bonds between children and their mums early in life affect children's later behavioural problems, such as aggression or hostility. The studies included in the review used a range of methods for assessing children's behaviour problems, including parent and teacher questionnaires and direct observations.

Dr Fearon said: "The central question we posed was whether attachment insecurity was associated with behaviour problems across all the studies conducted to date. The results showed quite clearly that the answer to this question is a firm yes.

"More specifically, our analysis showed that children with insecure attachments to their mothers, particularly boys, had significantly more behavioural problems, even when the behavioural problems were measured years later."

The study also recommends the need for treatment studies focusing on attachment and for more research on the significance of attachment between children and their fathers.


For more information please contact Rona Cheeseman, press officer, on 0118 378 7388 or email

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Notes to editors

The study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

 The paper, The Significance of Insecure Attachment and Disorganization in the Development of Children's Externalizing Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Study, by Fearon, RP (University of Reading), Bakermans-Kranenburg, MJ, and Van IJzendoorn, MH (University of Leiden), Lapsley, A-M (Barnet, Enfield & Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust), and Roisman, GI (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), appears in Child Development, Vol 81, Issue 2.

The School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at Reading is renowned for its excellence in teaching and research. In the last national Research Assessment Exercise in 2008, 95% of the research produced by academic staff in the department was recognised as of international quality, with over 60% rated as 'internationally excellent' or 'world leading'. It was also awarded the top marks for its teaching with an Excellent rating in the last Teaching Quality Audit.

University of Reading

The University of Reading is rated as one of the top 200 universities in the world (THE-QS World Rankings 2009).

  • The University of Reading is one of the UK's top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants worth nearly £10 million from EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC. In the RAE 2008, over 87% of the university's research was deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, as well as law.
  • Standards of teaching are excellent - the University scored highly in the National Student Survey 2009.  87% of Reading students responding to the survey stated they were satisfied with the quality of their course.
  • The University is estimated to contribute £600 million to the local economy annually.
  • University of Reading is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.


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