A Rorschach study of object representations and attachment in male adolescents with disruptive behaviors

Angelynn Fhay Pinto, Pace University


The term disruptive behaviors refers to those behaviors specified as Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder in the DSM-IV. A robust literature indicates that these behaviors can be differentiated into two groups, aggressive and non-aggressive/delinquent, each with its own developmental trajectory. One dimension, characterized as aggressive or overt, begins in early childhood with oppositional behaviors and progresses into the more overtly aggressive behaviors during adolescence, with a poor adult prognosis. The non-aggressive/delinquent trajectory, characterized as covert, typically begins in early adolescence with the emergence of truancy, substance abuse, rule breaking, and run-away behaviors, is less apt to progress into aggressive behaviors, and is more apt to resolve by late adolescence. Studies have also indicated that both disorders manifest disturbances in attachment. As of yet, there have been no studies examining whether or not children manifesting different behavioral disturbances manifest different attachment styles; or differences in object representations, which have been found to mediate behavior. This study was an examination of the Rorschachs of 50 adolescent boys, ages 13 through 15, identified as in need of service for disruptive behaviors significant enough to cause dysfunction either in school or the community. A comparison of the frequency of certain Rorschach determinants, considered to reflect attachment needs, dysphoria, and anxiety was made. A content analysis of Rorschach responses, using the Mutuality of Autonomy Scale (Unst, 1977) was also conducted. This scale measures object representations along seven dimensions, reflecting different developmental levels. The youths' self-report of their attachment to each parent and to their peers was also examined, using the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987). No difference was found between the groups in their use of Rorschach determinants, nor in their ratings of attachment of parents and peers. On the MOA, the covert group showed a significantly higher frequency of Most Adaptive Responses (MAR) than the overt group, indicating a greater capacity for collaborative and reciprocal relationships. The groups did not differ in the frequency of their Least Adaptive Responses (LAR), suggesting that malevolent and destructive interactions are equally expected by each group. These results suggest that differences in defensive structures may account for the higher level of adaptive functioning in the Covert group. Further research in this area is indicated. Exploratory analysis of the frequency of distorted or unusual perceptions (X-, Xu) found that this population adolescents manifesting disruptive behaviors produced a significantly greater number of these responses when compared to the non-clinical sample reported by Exner (1993). Additional research of variations in cognitive functioning between the two groups is also indicated. When working with this population, psychologists need to be aware of their high level of distrust of the good intentions of others, as well as their tendency towards disturbances in thinking and deficits in reality testing.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Behaviorial sciences|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Pinto, Angelynn Fhay, "A Rorschach study of object representations and attachment in male adolescents with disruptive behaviors" (1998). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9907771.



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