Relatedness and Individuation Among Young Adults Born Preterm: The Role of Relationships with Parents and Death Anxiety

Miri Scharf, Tal Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Preterm birth may constitute a risk factor for long-term difficulties when facing developmental tasks of relatedness and individuation in young adulthood. Since these early experiences might leave individuals more susceptible to anxiety, we examined whether relationships with parents and death anxiety mediated the associations between preterm birth and difficulties in relatedness and individuation. The sample included 57 emerging adults who were born preterm, and a paired control group that filled out questionnaires: The Perceptions of Adult Attachment Questionnaire, Personal Assessment of Intimacy in Relationships, the death anxiety test, and projective assessment of death anxiety. Preterm young adults and their counterparts exhibited similar levels of closeness with their parents, with romantic partner, and with best friend. A different picture emerged with regard to differentiation and death anxiety. Preterm young adults exhibited higher levels of emotional reactivity and fusion with others, and higher levels of death anxiety than their counterparts. Death anxiety mediated the relations between preterm birth status and differentiation. It appears that, despite the fact that these youngsters experienced a traumatic event early in their lives, they overcame this difficult experience and were successful in maintaining closeness with close others. In contrast, the traces of the preterm birth might be more pronounced in the domain of differentiation. People who experienced separations from significant others, especially early in life, may develop high levels of death anxiety as death is experienced as the ultimate separation from a close person. Enduring death anxiety might complicate the individuation process. Gender differences that were found are in accord with previous findings. The strengths and limitations of the study as well as suggestions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-221
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Adult Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Death anxiety
  • Individuation
  • Preterm
  • Relatedness
  • Young adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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