Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology


This study was designed to explore the relationships between emotionally significant experiences and cognitive functioning. An extensive body of literature already exists linking attachment style to emotional, behavioral, and psychological functioning throughout the life span. There are theoretical as well as empirical reasons to believe that attachment may affect cognitive functioning as well as psychological functioning. Security of attachment affects modulation of arousal and attention, impacts quality of environmental exploration, and may be an essential stimulus for development of certain brain regions. This study adds to this more recent area of exploration of the effects of early attachment experiences, in which attachment has been shown to affect intelligence, attention, learning disabilities, and grades. Subjects used were participants in the ADD Health Study, a multi-site study of adolescent health habits through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Data used in this research were derived from the Public Use Data Set of the ADD Health Study. These data include demographic variables suggestive of attachment disruptions (separation from primary caregiver for more than six months, parental divorce, single parent home, adoption, birth outside the United States, and multiple moves), a measure of cognitive ability (a short version of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test), and student grades. The demographic variables suggestive of disrupted attachment were summed to form a measure of attachment disruptions. Correlation and multiple regression were used to study the impact of disrupted attachment on intelligence measures and grades. Attachment disruptions were found to have a small but significant effect on cognitive ability and grades, and this impact remains even when corrected for possible confounding demographic variables such as income, maternal education, gender, and race. This effect appears to be partially mediated by the impact of attachment disruptions on attachment-related beliefs and psychopathology. Further study is recommended to identify the specific mechanisms behind these effects of attachment disruptions on cognitive and academic functioning.

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