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

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Clinical

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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