Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 48, Issue 11, pp 2099–2113 | Cite as

Prospective Bidirectional Associations between Attachment and Depressive Symptoms from Middle Childhood to Adolescence

  • L. Cortés-GarcíaEmail author
  • L. Wichstrøm
  • K. R. Viddal
  • C. Senra
Empirical Research


Insecure attachment to parents consistently correlates with adolescent depression. However, the order of cause and effect, the impact of confounding, and gender disparities in this relationship remain unresolved. The present study therefore examined the prospective associations between attachment relationships to mothers and fathers and depressive symptoms in a community sample of Spanish children (n = 904; 49.4% females) assessed biennially from age 10–16 years, net of all unmeasured time-invariant confounding. Insecure relationships predicted depressive symptoms, and more so among girls, but depressive symptoms also forecasted worsened attachment relationships. At ages 12–14, mother–child attachment proved to be more important for the development of depressive symptoms than father–child attachment. These findings reveal a pattern of reciprocal influence between attachment relationships and depressive symptoms that appears to vary as a function of the parental and child’s gender and developmental period. Thus, efforts aimed at strengthening the parent–child attachment relationship—across the transition from middle childhood to adolescence—may prevent or reduce depressive symptoms, especially by targeting mothers and female adolescents.


Adolescence Attachment relationships Depression Dynamic panel model Gender Reciprocal associations 


Authors’ Contributions

L.C.G. conceived of the study, participated in its design and drafted the original manuscript; L.W. participated in the design, performed the statistical analysis measurement and helped to draft the manuscript; K.R.V. participated in the interpretation of the data and helped to draft the manuscript; C.S. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This present study was conducted in compliance with the specific requirements of Spain for retrospective studies. All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study, their parents and principals of all schools.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology, Faculty of PsychologyUniversity of Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSpain
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNTNU Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

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