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  8. »Susan R. Burns, Ph.D.

Department of Psychological Sciences

Susan R. Burns, Ph.D.

Advisor: Dr. Mark Barnett

Dissertation Title

Attachment security as a predictor of preschoolers’ prosocial responses to mothers and peers

Dissertation Abstract

The present study sought to examine the influence of the security of the mother-child relationship on the extent and quality of the child's prosocial interactions with his/her mother and peers during early childhood. Assessment within the present study consisted of: (1) home visits during which mothers completed a questionnaire assessing their children's empathy toward and helping of them, the attachment Q-sort, and a staged situation during which children's responses to their mothers' sadness and need for help were videotaped, (2) teachers' ratings of children's empathy with and helping of their peers, and (3) naturalistic observations of children's empathy with and helping of their peers within the preschool setting.

Path analysis indicated that attachment security predicted (1) empathic happiness with mother directly and (2) playful sharing with mother both directly and indirectly. Additionally, children's empathic sadness with their mothers directly predicted their expressive helping of their mothers, negatively predicted their state helping of their mothers, and positively predicted teachers' ratings of children's helping of their peers. Finally, teachers' ratings of children's empathic happiness and sadness with their peers directly predicted teachers' ratings of their helping of peers.

The present findings contribute to the understanding of the role of attachment security in preschoolers' expressions of empathy and helping toward their mothers and peers. Specifically, attachment security was found to promote prosocial responses associated with the sharing of positive (but not negative) affect and interaction between mother and child. However, the present study found only limited support for the notion that children's prosocial interactions with their mothers predict prosocial interactions with their peers. Specifically, children's expressions of empathic sadness with their mothers predicted their helping of peers. Although one significant mother-to-peer path was found, various other related and reasonable paths (e.g., empathy with mother predicting empathy with peers; helping of mother predicting helping of peers) were not. An important goal of future research will be to determine the extent to which prosocial interactions with peers is dependent upon a history of prosocial interactions with mother.


Ph.D., Psychology, Kansas State University, 2002