Attachment and psychological separation in adopted and non-adopted adolescents

Michael Francis McGinn, Pace University


A significant amount of theoretical and empirical research literature exists which focuses on the intrapsychic developmental processes of attachment and separation-individuation, and on the unique life experiences of adoptees. However, few empirical research studies have investigated the interface of adoption, attachment and separation-individuation. This study was conducted to provide information on how attachment and separation-individuation may differ in adopted adolescents as compared to non-adopted adolescents. A group of 30 adoptees and 30 non-adoptees, ages 12.8–22.4, participated in this study. Each participant provided demographic information and completed selected scales of the Inventory of Parent-Peer Attachment (IPPA; Armsden and Greenberg, 1987), and the Psychological Separation Inventory (PSI; Hoffman, 1984). The data were analyzed using two-tailed, independent samples t tests, two-way analyses of variance, Pearson product-moment correlations, and a hierarchical multiple regression analysis. A hypothesis that adopted adolescents experience/perceive less maternal attachment than non-adoptees was not supported. A hypothesis that adopted adolescents experience/perceive less of the trust component of maternal attachment than non-adoptees was supported. A third hypothesis, that adopted adolescents experience/perceive less psychological separation from their mothers than non-adoptees, was not supported. Adopted adolescents did not differ from non-adopted adolescents in the Communication or Alienation components of their Maternal Attachment relationships. Adoptees’ reports of Total Peer Attachment, and of the Trust, Communication, and Alienation components of Peer Attachment, did not differ from the reports of non-adoptees. Adopted adolescents reported more of the Emotional Independence component of Maternal Psychological Separation than non-adoptees, but the groups did not differ in the functional, Conflictual or Attitudinal Independence components of Maternal Psychological Separation. Significant gender differences were found in 3 areas: Of the total sample, females reported more Total Peer Attachment and more Peer Communication than males, while males reported more Emotional Independence than females. A significant interaction of gender and adoptive status was found, with adopted males reporting significantly more Communication in their maternal attachment relationships than adopted females, while non-adopted females reported more Communication in their relationships with their mothers than non-adopted males. A greater number of significant correlations between the sub-scales of the attachment and psychological separation measures were found for adoptees than for non-adoptees. However, further analysis indicated that the relationship between IPPA and PSI sub-scales was not significantly moderated by adoptive status. A discussion of the findings, the limitations of the study, implications for school psychologists, and suggestions for future research are provided.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

McGinn, Michael Francis, "Attachment and psychological separation in adopted and non-adopted adolescents" (2001). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3006167.



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