Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Melissa Hakman (Director), Dr. Carl Myers, Dr. Reagan Brown

Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Specialist in Education


Research on attachment theory supports the notion that our early attachment relationships are integral to empathic development, and that early negative attachment relationships can promote depersonalization rather than empathy. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of separations from one’s primary caregiver(s) on the development of empathy or depersonalization in adolescence. Adolescents who have been separated from their biological parent(s) due to abuse and/or neglect were expected to differ on self-reported levels of empathy, dissociation, hostility, and depression when compared to adolescents who have not had such involuntary separations in their life. After performing descriptive, correlational, and inferential analyses, results indicated that there was not a significant difference between the groups on self-reported levels of empathy, dissociation, hostility, or depressive symptomatology. It is important to note, though, that more than half of the youth who were involuntarily separated from their biological parent(s) continued to view at least one of their parents as a positive attachment figure, and there was not a significant difference between groups on the number of positive attachments reported. The findings in this study were interpreted as supportive of the applications of attachment theory to past empathy research, since differences on the dependent variables were not expected if there were not differences in attachment between the two groups. The results also supported the seminal work of John Bowlby by affirming the role of perception and the cognitive appraisal of attachment figures on attachment security. Furthermore, the results validated the use of the Social Networks Questionnaire (SNQ) and supported its use, in conjunction with the Social Support Questionnaire-Short Form (SSQ6), to assess attachment relationships.


Cognitive Psychology | Psychology | Social Psychology