The Safe Passage Attachment Study at International Schools



In 2014, Drs. Douglas W. Ota published Safe Passage: What Mobility Does to People and What International Schools Should Do About It. This book provides a rationale and framework for addressing transitions at any school with turnover.

In the process of writing the book, a compelling question developed. Could the experience of transitions—which includes both moving and being moved away from— be eroding students’ ability and willingness to develop deep relationships?

Referred to as “attachment security” in the psychological literature, this ability to develop deep relationships is important because it has been linked to long-term health. Securely-attached people outperform their less-securely attached counterparts in every domain of human functioning across the lifespan.

The SPASIS study will examine the relationship between turnover and attachment security. What happens to attachment security at international or internationally- minded schools whose populations are more stable, versus those where populations are subject to more turnover?

These questions have never been rigorously and empirically examined.

Together with one of the leading attachment researchers in the world, Professor Marinus van IJzendoorn of Cambridge University, Erasmus University, and Emeritus Professor at Leiden University, and with practical support from the Council of International Schools (CIS), the proposed study employs gold-standard measures in the field of psychology to answer the above research question.

The most rigorous empirical studies are characterized by randomization. CIS has provided valuable assistance so that the SPASIS study can apply randomization even at the level of school selection. (Students at schools who agree to participate will also be randomly selected.) The CIS database was augmented with expertise from local heads of school. Through a rigorous process applied to all potential schools, six schools were randomly selected in two countries, Vietnam and the Netherlands.

Data collection is targeted for the fall of the 2019-2020 school year.

A community’s participation in a scientific study is a major consideration. The SPASIS study has been cleared by the Ethics Committee at Erasmus University (EC-DPECS).

For more information, please contact Doug Ota, SPASIS principal investigator, at

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