Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Daniel Lende, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Heide Castañeda, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca Zarger, Ph.D.


Burkina Faso, Disinhibited Social Behavior, Early Attachment, Mossi, Orphans



The focus of this thesis is early attachment among institutionalized infant orphans. Previous research has pointed towards attachment problems in dysfunctional institutions, but did not take a comparative approach to understanding attachment. The present research was conducted in an orphanage in Kaya, a little town located in the Center North Region of Burkina Faso, Africa. The 22 children at the institution were aged four months to five years and were mostly from the Mossi ethnicity. Using mixed psychological and anthropological methods such as behaviors checklist, attachment questionnaires, and participant observation, this research indicates that orphans do not display evident features of unsecure attachment such as avoidant, resistant, or disorganized attachment: 79% of the children would seek proximity with caregivers, 93% would make visual contact, and 79% would often explore their environment. However, a significant number of children in the orphanage showed disinhibited reactive attachment: 36% of the children would seek contact with a stranger; only 21% would be anxious to see a stranger. Using a cross-cultural approach, the study questions the classification of disinhibited reactive attachment as a problematic ailment and suggest that the behavior might not be seen negatively, but can have positive outcome in the transition process from the orphanage to the adoptive family. The research also examines the factors related to orphanhood that can have consequences on the future of children and consecutively on their chances to form secure attachment. The research underlines many other difficulties between caregivers and orphans such as the lack of training, the young age of the caregivers, and the reluctance to get attached to the children in order to avoid difficult separations. This study emphasizes the complexity of the early attachment process of institutionalized orphans.