Interpretation and Integration Linkages Among Attachment Memory and Maltreatment

Although most of the studies utilizing ERPs to examine children raised in atypical environments have not been designed to specifically assess memory functioning (Parker & Nelson, 2005b, is the exception), some insights may be gleaned from these studies concerning the linkage between attachment processes and the relation between internal working models, affect, and memory. The extant body of literature on the relationship between children's memory and attachment orientation has been limited to normative samples of preschool-aged children, but their findings have been consistent in demonstrating that children's attachment has important implications for memory encoding, storage, and/or retrieval (e.g., Belsky, Spritz & Crnic, 1996; Goodman, Quas, Batterman-Faunce, Riddlesberger, & Kuhn, 1997; Kirsh & Cassidy, 1997; also see Alexander, Quas, & Goodman, 2002, for comprehensive review of this area). For example, the work of Belsky et al. (1996) suggests that children remember information best when it is consistent with their attachment schema or internal working models.

Several different developmental theories cohere to suggest that relational schemas, or representational models, are formed as a result of children's early interactions with their primary caregivers. Depending on the theoretical perspective, the internalizations of these early interaction experiences are labeled as representational models or internal working models (IWMs) within attachment theory (Bowlby, 1958; Bretherton & Munholland, 1999) and as schemas or scripts within social cognitive theory (Baldwin, 1992).

Despite differences in terminology for these constructs, both attachment and social/cognitive theorists agree that specific relationship experiences are encoded as cognitive representations of the self, other, and the self in relation to other, and are used to guide perception, attention, future expectations, and behavior within interpersonal contexts (Baldwin, 1992; Cicchetti, Cummings, Greenberg & Marvin, 1990; Main, Kaplan & Cas-sidy, 1985). As such, these cognitive representations serve as important organizing schemas for memory that can be used to facilitate encoding and recall (Markus, 1977; Rogers, 1981; Rogers, Kuiper, & Kirker, 1977). Representational models are also believed to guide an individual's attention, selecting for attachment-relevant information about the world, the self, and others in ways that allow the individual to process interpersonal information and to develop expectations about the future (Bowlby, 1980; Bretherton, 1990; Main et al., 1985). Unfortunately, early parent-child relationships within maltreating families are often characterized by negative interactions and have an adverse effect on children's representational models (see Azar, 2002, for review).

The findings of Cicchetti and Curtis (2005) concerning the Nc, an ERP component indexing attention, could be interpreted within an attachment and memory framework. Maltreated children may be primed to respond to negative affect (represented by the images of angry facial expressions utilized as stimuli) because these stimuli tapped their affective representations of early emotional experience, much of which is undoubtedly associated with anger and other negative affect. This process may in fact represent a primitive neurobiology of internal working models associated with the attachment system. This process may involve the tapping of an associative network of memory that is based on the affective valence of the particular stimuli, whereby early experience is "recognized" and memories of that experience are retrieved.

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