Assessments

In conducting our research, we utilize a wide array of unique and robust assessments to gather data on adults, children, and parent-child interactions.  Some of our assessments represent cutting-edge evaluative techniques, while others are time-tested "gold standards" in the fields of attachment research and developmental psychology.


Adult Attachment Interview

The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI; George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985), a semistructured interview of 18 questions, concentrates on eliciting a sense of what probably happened to individuals in childhood and a picture of the degree to which they have evaluated those experiences. As a clinical intake tool, the AAI yields a relatively deep social history at the level of experience and symbolic representation, with a particular focus on at- tachment-related experiences. "Deep" in this context refers to material that reflects both early memories and modes of responding to (or coping with) experience stored at diverse levels of awareness. In this gathering of information, the AAI allows for the assessment of the following three features of the respondent’s inner world: (a) the nature of the speaker’s probable childhood experiences with his or her parents; (b) the nature of the speaker’s mental representations of each parent, including their emotional stance toward them; and (c) the extent to which loss or other traumatic events or life circumstances have influenced their development and current personality organization. (Text from Steele & Baradon, 2004)

Affect Task

The Affect Task is a projective measure of Emotional Intelligence for children age 6-8. It taps the child’s ability to imaginatively, resourcefully and correctly understand and apply, a universally recognized facial expression to characters represented in a card-based cartoon.  Facial expression is intended to be a representation of an emotional state.

Longitudinal research (indexed from the Strange Situation and Adult Attachment Interview) by Steele and Steele has consistently demonstrated that a child’s later ability to imaginatively and resourcefully describe and explain the emotional reactions of others is influenced by the early mother-child relationship (Steele & Steele, 2005).

Child Mirror Task

The mirror paradigm provides a window into understanding attachment between a mother and child.  Mirrors can be utilized projectively to convey the child's relationships with their mother and the child’s own sense of self. Interaction in front of the mirror can demonstrate the level of synchrony, freedom of exploration, and the relationship between these concepts.

The research on the mirror interview is still new and in an early stage; however, it will be interesting to learn how a mother’s behavior in front of the mirror and feelings about her own body/self are transmitted to her own child. Is there an intergenerational transmission of body image and sense of self? Moreover, does the mirror interview accurately reflect this transmission?

Co-Construction Task

The Co-Construction task was designed to measure and examine, at a micro-level, verbal and non-verbal behaviors engaged in by a parent and child during a semi-structured play interaction.  The task was designed by Dr. Miriam Steele and Dr. Howard Steele and is designed to examine the use of attachment facilitating and non-facilitating behaviors engaged in by both the parent and his/her child.  The micro-level codes are used in order to provide a more objective and sensitive measure of attachment behaviors. The task is used for a large age range starting from 18 or 24 months and continuing up to 6 or 7 years of age.

The task itself is quite simple.  The parent and child sit at a table next to one another, are given a box of wooden, multi-colored and multi-shaped blocks and asked to “build something using as many blocks as possible.”  The parent and child are left alone and the interaction is videotaped for five minutes.  The 5 minute video is then coded by a 2-3 person coding team.  Coding consists of watching the video and rating whether or not certain behaviors are or are not exhibited by the parent and child during the 5 minute interaction.  These ratings are done in 10-second intervals, for all behaviors, and for both the parent and the child.

Cortisol Collection

Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone often referred to as the "stress hormone." This physiological measure has proven highly relevant to attachment research. Evidence suggests that infants with insecure attachments show greater cortisol reactivity to the Strange Situation than secure infants. Paradoxically, infants exposed to extreme neglect or abuse have shown flatter patterns of cortisol across the day, suggesting they are "desensitized" to stress in a particularly maladaptive fashion.

Delay of Gratification Task

Delay of Gratification was developed by Walter Mischel to be a measure of a child’s self-regulation around 4-5 years of age. The task involves observing the child while they remain in a room alone with two cups of candy, one filled with a little bit of candy and one filled with a lot of candy. Before they are left alone, the researcher instructs the child to wait until they come back (10-15 minutes) in order to receive the cup filled with more candy but if they cannot, they will receive the cup with less candy. The child is also left with a bell in the room that they can ring in order to signal that they cannot wait, in which case they receive less candy. This is a very challenging task for a child because they have to use self-imposed restraint in order to receive the greater reward.

Friends & Family Interview

The Friends and Family Interview (FFI) was first developed and tested by Miriam and Howard Steele in the context of the 11-year follow-up of the London Parent-Child Project. The interview seeks to bridge the gap in attachment classification measures that begins with the Strange Situation (SS) in infancy before skipping to the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) in adulthood.  It is intended to be administered during middle childhood and adolescence.

Maternal Prohibition Task

This task involves an 18-24-month-old child and their mother who are left in a room with a novel object, such as a computer keyboard, and the mother is instructed to keep her child from touching. The Maternal Prohibition Task is conceptually linked to the Delay of Gratification Task (see above), as both tap into a child’s capacity for self-control. Links between the Maternal Prohibition task and Delay of Gratification task have been found in previous research (LeCuyer & Houck, 2004) which is important from the attachment viewpoint because of the apparent influence a mother’s ability to regulate her child at a very young age has on how the child can later self-regulate behaviors.

Mirror Interview

In the Mirror Interview (MI; Kernberg, 2007), subjects are asked to answer a variety of questions about themselves, their body, and the influence of their parents while looking at their reflections in a full-length mirror.  The MI is based on the assumption that looking at oneself in the mirror while responding to these questions plays a critical role in the task, in terms of assessing both attachment and body image.

Parent Development Interview

The Parent Development Interview (PDI; Aber et al., 1985) is a semi-structured interview that takes 1-2 hours to complete and measures how parents view their relationship with their child. For example, parents are asked to describe what they like most and least about their child, and to choose and substantiate their choice of three adjectives that best describe their relationship with their child. (Text from Splaun et al., 2010)

Picnic Task

The Picnic Task was designed as a means for assessing qualities of free play within families.  Families are asked to begin, engage in, and clean up a pretend picnic.

Story Stems

Story Stems is a projective assessment for children ages 5-10 years of age.  In this task, the interviewer reads and enacts (using playmobile figures and/or animal dolls) a story which stresses the attachment system, for example, a child is shown to burn their finger while the mother is cooking dinner.  After the introduction of a dilemma, the interviewer asks the child to, “show me and tell me what happens next” and the child is free to complete the story.

Strange Situation

In the 1960s, Ainsworth devised a procedure to observe attachment relationships between a caregiver and child. In this procedure of the Strange Situation, the child is observed playing while caregivers and strangers enter and leave the room, recreating the flow of the familiar and unfamiliar presence in most children's lives. The situation varies in stressfulness and the child's behavioral responses are observed.

Tool-Using Task

The Tool-Using Task is used to assess the problem-solving skills of children between 24 to 30 months by focusing on task involvement, persistence, affect and ability to use adult resources.  The support and quality of assistance provided by the caregiver is also considered.

The task comprises two fairly easy warm-up exercises whereby the child works out how to get an attractive reward out of a container, and two more complex assignments on the same theme which challenge the child and usually require some coaching from the parent in order to complete them. Only the final two exercises are coded.
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