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Adolescent Twins’ Mental Representations of Self and Other in Relation with Zygosity, Attachment Patterns and Psychological Disturbances

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    Research Project Team

    You Zhou, Pasco Fearon, Peter Fonagy Collaborators Patrick Luyten Contact You Zhou,
  • Background

    Blatt’s two polarities model of self-definition and interpersonal relatedness provides us a broad psychodynamic structural developmental framework that enables us to establish conceptual continuities between personality development, variations in normal personality organization, concepts of psychopathology and some mechanisms of therapeutic (Blatt, 2008). The central theoretical construct of the two polarities model is the mental representation of self and other. As adolescence is a critical transition stage for rapid transformations of attachment relationships and emergence of a consolidated self-identity, it is therefore crucial to understand the development of mental representations during this period. This study of adolescent twins on their mental representations will not only present how attachment relationships with parents can affect the developmental levels of differentiation-relatedness of self and other in adolescence, but also how such levels of mental representation of self and other can be served as an important attempt to bridge the gap between attachment and psychopathology especially because the development of self-representation becomes increasingly crucial beyond childhood. More importantly, the behavioural-genetic study of the twins will provide us a further understanding of the potential causal factors for individual differences in the development of mental representation of self and other during adolescence, which may subsequently influence our ways of interpreting different mechanisms involved in intergenerational transmissions of attachment patterns and certain psychopathology.
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    To establish reliability and validity of the newly adapted Differentiation-Relatedness scale on semi-structured Child Attachment interview (i.e. CAI-DRs); To examine the levels of mental representation of self and other among different attachment patterns; To investigate the relationship between mental representational levels and psychopathology; To test the genetic as well shared and non-shared environmental influences on mental presentation of self and other.
  • Methodology

    This study uses classical twin design with identical and non-identical twins reared within the same family. The sample of this study is part of the TEDS attachment study including 160 pairs of same-sex twins with weighed zygosity and gender proportion. The mean age of the adolescent twins is 15. The levels of mental representations of the twins were assessed by the adapted differentiation-relatedness scale on sections of Child Attachment Interview. For the behavioural-genetic part of the study, the initial estimates of heritability were based on the correlations of the twins. Further structured model-fitting method was also applied to understand the variance of mental representations caused by relevant genetic and environmental influences.
  • Results

    With reservation to generalize the findings, this study has found that different attachment patterns involve differences in levels of mental representation of self and other, and may therefore result in differences in psychological functioning and capacity for adaptations. As children are working towards more generalized stance of attachment relationships and starting to consolidate a more comprehensive structure of self-identity during adolescence, the self-representation has become increasingly important in personality development. Not only the securely attached adolescents were found to have a relatively more advanced level of representation of self that started to be equivalent as adults, but also the representation of self was reported to be more sensitive than the relational representation of self-mother or self-father corresponding to certain symptom dimensions of psychopathology, despite of the restriction of this normative study sample. Although with somewhat limited statistic power, the behavioural-genetic analysis of the study has indicated that there are some genetic influences on the mental representation of self-mother and self-father, whereas the genetic effect on the self-representation still remain limited in adolescence. Such results are congruent with the genetic effects found in the main TEDS attachment study in adolescence (Fearon et al, 2013) and some of the attachment studies in adulthood. It may suggest that the mechanisms involved in the relational working models are significantly different from early childhood. If consistent genetic evidence were found in later adolescence and in adulthood, it may open up a new perspective to understand the intergenerational transmissions of attachment and psychopathology beyond childhood.