Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Michael Pratt

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The purpose of the present investigation was to explore the possible associations between marital affect and cognitive complexity of discourse within an attachment context. Attachment theorists (e.g., Bowlby, 1982) have proposed that bonds formed between infants and their parents are internalized as working models of self and others and continue to influence the infant in relationships even into adulthood. In particular, possible longitudinal influences of variations in early attachment experiences may be seen in the discussions of couples about relationship issues. It was hypothesized that childhood attachment relationships with parents would be associated with the level of cognitive complexity of the couples' comments and with the kind of affect produced in couple discussions. The relationship between affect and the level of cognitive complexity in the discussions was also explored. Fifty-six wives and 52 husbands participating in a larger study of the transition to parenthood completed attachment scales (see Cowan & Cowan, 1994) and were videotaped trying to resolve a couple or parenting issue of their choice. The couple discussions were then coded for integrative complexity and kinds of affect expressed by the spouses. It was hypothesized that a more secure attachment to parents would be associated with less reciprocation of negative affect from the partner and a higher level of complexity in the discussions. As well, it was predicted that more complex speech should also be related to a lower level of negative affect reciprocation. Two findings of notable interest were obtained, such that attachment to the opposite-sex parent, particularly for wives, was related to the amount of overall negativity produced by the wives and by the couples. Also, the predicted relationship between negative affect reciprocation and integrative complexity was generally found, such that individuals and couples who were more complex in their thinking, reciprocated and expressed less negative affect. However, there was no evidence that attachment status was a predictor of integrative complexity in the couple discussions, contrary to the hypothesis. Implications of the present study are discussed in terms of gender roles within marriages and developing interventions for couples experiencing communication difficulties.

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