Development of a projective technique to assess experience of attachment in middle childhood: a pilot study

Westphal, Elizabeth (2007) Development of a projective technique to assess experience of attachment in middle childhood: a pilot study. Other Degree thesis, Victoria University.


Research on attachment in human relationships has flourished with the development and validation of measures of attachment for infants, small children and adults, and, more recently, adolescents. However, research on attachment in middle childhood has been limited by relatively less attention to the development of relevant assessment techniques for this age group. At the same time, despite recognition of the powerful impact of attachment on overall child functioning, its assessment in clinical work has been hampered. Existing techniques for this age group rely on direct observation of actual behaviour, parent or child self-report of actual or hypothetical behaviour, or the interpretation of doll play in response to suggested specific situations of stress or separation. The present research represents the development of a more versatile technique for assessing quality of attachment in middle childhood, the 'Child’s Experience of Attachment Technique (CEAT)'. Design and piloting of this projective tool involved a number of steps. First, an in-depth exploration of relevant literature, particularly that relating to internal working models of attachment, was undertaken. On this basis, a series of ten ambiguous pencil drawings of children in various social situations was devised. Employing a storytelling technique, these drawings were trialled with a non-clinical sample of five boys and five girls, aged 6-12 years of age. The data collected enabled the stimulus drawings to be evaluated and refined, and a scheme for coding responses in the stories elicited to be created. The development of a coding scheme that could reflect some of the complexity of coexisting internal working models of attachment was the main thrust of this research. A revised set of stimulus drawings and the coding scheme were designed and piloted with a non-clinical sample of 20 girls and 20 boys, and with a clinical sample of 10 boys receiving psychotherapy for severe behavioural difficulties. When the matched samples were compared using the CEAT, the clinical group was found to have significantly lower security of attachment scores than the non-clinical group, as hypothesised. These results gave a preliminary indication of appropriate concurrent validity of the CEAT and its coding scheme. In addition, the CEAT provided rich multifaceted qualitative information concerning participants’ internal representations of attachment. Overall, findings suggested that further investigation of the reliability and validity of the CEAT is warranted.

Additional Information

Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for
the degree of Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology)

Item type Thesis (Other Degree thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 380000 Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords attachment, middle childhood, assessment techniques, child’s experience of attachment technique
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