Attachment theory

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Attachment theory states that children develop expectations about the extent to which they will receive support when stressed--and these expectations shape the relationships they will later form in life. Individuals, for example, who seldom receive warmth, approval, and support when needed during their childhood feel uneasy with intimacy. They, instead, prefer to rely on their own resources and abilities to redress threats and indeed, as a consequence, become inclined to suppress their limitations, striving to perceive themselves as competent and resilient.

Attachment theory was initially applied almost exclusively to the study of children and their caregivers. In the 1980s, the theory was extended to understand adult romantic relationships and, then, eventually to all friendships.

Evolution of attachment theory

Bowlby (1969/1982) contended that humans are born with an attachment system, which motivates individuals to seek proximity, comfort, and assistance from parents-later other protective figures such as teachers, friends, romantic partners, and counselors--especially when some threat or adversity is imminent.

Specifically, attachments refer to bonds between a person and an attachment figure. These bonds first develop in infancy and childhood as a means to ensure the need for safety and protection are fulfilled. That is, children instinctively form bonds with a caregiver. According to Bowlby (1969), when individuals recognize a sense of threat or danger, they experience a sense of alarm, which activates the attachment system, eliciting behaviors that promote support from an attachment figure-usually the mother or the father. That is, these behaviors are intended to maintain proximity to this caregiver. If this attachment figure is not available or is not responsive, individuals experience a sense of anxiety.

Later, Bowlby (1973) discussed how this attachment system evolves over time, shaped by experiences with these protective figures. During their life, individuals develop specific tendencies, called their attachment style, which govern how they seek and maintain proximity to a person who can facilitate their capacity to cope with threats and dangers (Bowlby, 1973, 1988).

Research by Ainsworth and colleagues

Ainsworth and her colleagues conducted naturalistic, longitudinal research, as well as experimental studies, to examine these attachment styles in infants and their mothers (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). In this research, infants and mothers were observed in a room. Occasionally, the mother was asked to leave the room and then return.

These studies uncovered three distinct attachment styles-or means to seek and maintain proximity to an attachment figure: secure, insecure-ambivalent, and insecure-avoidant. Secure infants showed moderate distress when their mother departed from the room, approached the mother when she returned, received comfort from the mother, and explored the room adventurously provided she was present. Ambivalent infants showed elevated levels of distress when the mother departed and, although seeking proximity to the mother upon her return, was not able to be comforted. The infant also showed anxiety when exploring the room, even when the mother was present. Finally, the avoidant infants showed minimal distress when the mother departed, not excitement when she returned. In short, only infants who had formed a secure attachment style seemed to desire proximity and perceive the mother as a secure base from which to explore the world.

According to Ainsworth (1979, Ainsworth et al., 1978), the behavior of caregivers, at least partly, determines the attachment style of infants. When mothers were responsive to the needs of their children, the infants developed a secure attachment style. When the responses of mothers were inconsistent-often interfering with the activities of their children--the infants developed an ambivalent style. Finally, when the mother rejected the attempts of their children to establish physical contact, the children showed an avoidant style.

Key assumptions of attachment theory in children

Several key assumptions underpin attachment theory. First, attachment or bonding behaviors are considered to be adaptive, increasing the capacity of individuals to survive (Bowlby, 1969). Examples of these behaviors include the inclination of toddlers to remain proximal to familiar individuals. Hence, cues that coincide with potential threats, such as unfamiliar events or rapidly approaching objects, activate the attachment system in infants or children, invoking behaviors that maintain proximity to caregivers.

Second, the development of these tendencies is primarily shaped during specific phases in life, especially during the first three years perhaps. That is, the development of these inclinations is especially sensitive to cues and events during these early years (Bowlby, 1958).

Third, the preference of individuals towards specific figures, such as their parents, is not inherent. Instead, children develop this need to seek their primary attachment figure as a consequence of their experiences with this person (Bowlby, 1958). The person who is most available and responsive to the infant, especially during stressful or threatening contexts, becomes the primary attachment figure.

Fourth, the infant usually develops a hierarchy of relationships, ranging from the person to whom they favor the most when they seek proximity and support to other individuals who they do not favor as appreciably (e.g., Rutter, 1995). This position diverges slightly from previous perspectives, promulgated by Bowlby (1958), called monotropy, which assumed that infants primarily seek support from a single individual, usually the mother.

Fifth, this preference towards a primary attachment figure or caregiver primarily evolves from the provision of support and sensitivity during social interactions, especially in threatening contexts. Accordingly, the mere provision of food or relief from discomfort does not appreciably affect this preference (Bowlby, 1958).

Sixth, these experiences with caregivers, over time, coalesce to shape the thoughts, beliefs, expectations, emotions, memories, and behaviors about the self and about other individuals, called internal working models of social relationships. These internal working models guide the social interactions of individuals (Bowlby, 1973), facilitating the formation of friendships, marriage, parental behaviors, and so forth. For example, the knowledge to treat younger children different to older children is guided by these working models. Similarly, the recognition that both teachers and parents can provide support also represents a manifestation of these working models. Children who perceive themselves as worthy of support and their caregivers as receptive to offering such assistance are more likely to assume these attachment figures will be responsive to their needs.

Seventh, persistent separation from a familiar caregiver, or continuous changes in who is the primary caregiver, can preclude the formation of adaptive attachment behaviors. These problems can manifest as problems later in life (Bowlby, 1958).

Internal working models

From these early experiences with caregivers, individuals develop perceptions of themselves and expectations about the support they will receive. These perceptions and expectations are represented as schemas, or internal working models, which govern their behavior (e.g., Hazan & Shaver, 1994).

According to Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991), the internal working model comprises two main facets: a model of the self and a model of others. The model of self refers to whether or not individuals perceive themselves as worthy of love or support from attachment figures. If the activities of individuals are often interrupted by a caregiver, implying their behavior was unsuitable, they might develop the belief they are not worthy of approval. The model of others refers to whether individuals perceive caregivers and other figures in their life as available and supportive or unreliable and rejecting.

As Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) contend, these two internal working models imply that individuals can adopt one of four, not three, attachment styles-depending on whether the self or other is regarded positively or negatively. Secure individuals--both children and adults--perceive both themselves and other figures positively. That is, they perceive themselves as worthy of love and approval, raising their self esteem (Collins & Read, 1990; Feeney & Noller, 1990), as well as regard other individuals as available and trustworthy. Ambivalent individuals perceive themselves negatively but other figures positively, which diminishes their self esteem but increases the likelihood that will seek support from relatives, friends, and colleagues (Collins & Read, 1990; Feeney & Noller, 1990), often inciting obsession and preoccupation with relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

Two avoidant styles can be differentiated. Dismissing-avoidant individuals perceive themselves positively but other figures negatively. That is, because they regard other individuals as unavailable and unsupportive, they do not seek close relationships. Fearful-avoidant individuals, however, perceive both themselves and other figures negatively. They might feel an urge to seek proximity, but remain detached to protect their emotions.

Relational schemas and internal working models

In an extensive series of studies, Baldwin (1992, 1997; Baldwin, Keelan, Fehr, Enns, & Koh-Rangarajoo, 1996; Baldwin & Meunier, 1999), applied the concept of relational schemas to characterize the properties and consequences of internal working models. In particular, for any regular pattern of interactions, such as a marital conflict about parenthood, individuals form a schema that represents information about themselves, their partner, and the usual dynamics of this event.

Suppose, for example, a woman often asks her husband to become more involved in the role of parenting, but the husband never seems to modify his behavior. The woman will form a relational schema that includes information about herself, such as I need assistance, about her partner, such as He is unreliable, and about how events unfold in response to specific occurrences, such as "If I act emotionally, he will agree but not fulfill his promise".

According to Baldwin and colleagues, internal working models comprise these relational schemas. Therefore, in addition to information about the self and others, these models entail information about how interactions unfold. These expectations about how interactions unfold, for example, also seem to vary across attachment styles. To illustrate, in a study conducted by Baldwin, Fehr, Keedian, Seidel, and Thompson (1993), participants were asked to imagine the scenario in which they express their deep feelings towards their partner. They were then asked to indicate whether the partner would be accepting or rejecting. Relative to the other attachment styles, individuals who reported a secure attachment style were more likely to anticipate their partner would be accepting.

These relational schemas are also organized hierarchically (e.g., see Baldwin, 1992). That is, individuals form general working models that impinge on all relationships. Nevertheless, they working model varies across the various classes of relationships, such as romantic relationships, work relationships, and so forth. Furthermore, even within each class, the working model varies across every person with whom the individuals have formed a relationship-as well as the contexts in which these interactions unfold (for a similar perspective, see Collins & Read, 1994; Overall, Fletcher, & Friesen, 2003; Pietromonaco and Barrett, 2000; Trinke & Bartholomew, 1997).

According to this proposition that relational schemas are organized hierarchically, attachment style should vary slightly across relationships. This proposition has indeed been supported (e.g., La Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci, 2000; Trinke & Bartholomew, 1997).

Scripts and schemas associated with a secure attachment

Secure working models were assumed to be represented as declarative or explicit knowledge (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2004; Shaver & Mikulincer, 2007). Nevertheless, internal working models might also comprise procedure knowledge, such as how to manage negative emotions in the context of relationships (e.g., Bretherton, 1987, 1990; Waters, Rodrigues, & Ridgeway, 1998).

In other words, the working model might entails schemas, models, or scripts that underpin interactions with other individuals, intended to regulate emotions (e.g., Mikulincer, Shaver, Sapir-Lavid, & Avihou-Kanza, 2009; Waters & Waters, 2006). According to Waters and Waters (2006), the script comprises three facets:

  • When problems or obstacles arise, the individual can approach an attachment figure or relationship partner to seek assistance, which thus evokes an active coping style
  • This person or figure will be accessible and supportive in this context, curbing fears of rejection and enabling intimacy (Reis & Shaver, 1988)
  • If proximal to this person or figure, the individual will experience positive mood states, such as relief or comfort--ultimately improving the emotional state of individuals.

To illustrate, a prototypical script representing a secure attachment might be "If a difficulties arises, I can approach my partner, who will be available and supportive as well as curb my distress". These scripts enhance the emotional regulation of individuals.

The prompt word outline method has been used to assess these secure scripts (e.g., Waters & Hou, 1987; Waters, Rodrigues, & Ridgeway, 1998; Waters & Waters, 2006). Specifically, participants receive a story title, such as "Baby's Morning", and then 12 to 14 prompts. The first few prompts indicate the actors, such as baby and mother. The next few prompts relate to a key context, disruption, and resolution, such as play, blanket, hug, smile, story, pretend, teddy bear, lost, found, and nap (Waters & Waters, 2006). The participants use these words to construct a story. Judges receive training to ascertain the extent to which the narrative refers to the key features of secure scripts. Past research indicates that individuals who exhibit a secure attachment, as gauged by the Adult attachment Interview (see Hesse, 2008) or Experiences in Close Relationship questionnaire, also present narratives that refer to facets of a secure script (e.g., Coppola, Vaughn, Cassibba, & Constantini, 2006; Dykas, Woodhouse, Cassidy, & Waters, 2006).

Mikulincer, Shaver, Sapir-Lavid, and Avihou-Kanza (2009) developed another measure of these scripts in an adult sample. Participants were asked to write stories to describe the events in two sequences of three pictures, corresponding to a hospital and work environment respectively. In each sequence, the first picture depicted a person in distress. The second picture showed someone offering assistance. The third picture showed the person, who had been originally distressed, seemingly feeling better. Hence, each picture corresponded to one of the key facets of secure scripts.

Independent judges then rated the extent to which these narratives alluded to these characteristics of secure scripts. Participants also wrote about neutral pictures and completed other measures to preclude alternative explanations. Participants who exhibited a secure attachment style, as gauged by the Experiences in Close Relationships scale, tended to allude to the elements that epitomize a secure script.

In a second study, conducted by Mikulincer, Shaver, Sapir-Lavid, and Avihou-Kanza (2009), participants received only the first picture of the hospital sequence and were encouraged to derive their narrative from this scene only. Individuals who reported an anxious attachment style seldom referred to the relief that should ensue when attachment figures are sought--consistent with their anticipation of rejection. Individuals who reported an avoidant attachment style often alluded to a sense of relief even if the protagonist did not seek support. A similar pattern of findings was observed even after extraversion and neuroticism was controlled.

In a fourth study, Mikulincer, Shaver, Sapir-Lavid, and Avihou-Kanza (2009) showed how these secure scripts manifest in dreams. After awakening, participants reported their dreams, each morning over a month. Using content analysis, judges first uncovered the dreams in which the person experienced distress. Next, they evaluated the degree to which these dreams allude to the features of a secure script: seeking support, availability of support, and distress relief.

Individuals who reported an avoidant attachment seldom dreamt about attempts to seek support. Individuals who reported an anxious attachment were tentatively less inclined to dream about relief after distress.

The fifth study, reported by Mikulincer, Shaver, Sapir-Lavid, and Avihou-Kanza (2009), substantiated that such scripts demonstrate another feature of scripts in general--the generation of inferences that are consistent with secure schemas (cf., Markus, Smith, & Moreland, 1985). In particular, participants read a story that entailed the key facets of a secure script, in which an athlete was injured and then received a visit from a romantic partner. Information that was unrelated to attachment, such as the ambitions of this athlete, was also included.

Next, participants were asked to recall the principal facts as well as share their inferences, feelings, and opinions about the anecdote. Participants who had reported an anxious or avoidant attachment style were less likely than participants who had reported a secure attachment style to allude to inferences that relate to a secure script.

In a subsequent study, Mikulincer, Shaver, Sapir-Lavid, and Avihou-Kanza (2009) also showed the retrieval of script that entails secure facets is relatively automatic and effortless, but only in participants who report a secure attachment style. That is, if participants reported a secure attachment, they could generate inferences about a secure script--even if their attention was distracted by the need to suppress thoughts of a white bear for six minutes.

Scripts and schemas associated with an anxious attachment

According to social defense theory (e.g., Ein-Dor, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2011; see also Ein-Dor, Mikulincer, Doron, & Shaver, 2010), if individuals have developed an anxious attachment style, a particular schema or script governs their behavior in threatening situations, largely because of inconsistent attachment figures. This script comprises several key features. First, in unfamiliar or ambiguous settings, these individuals tend to remain especially vigilant to threats. Second, these individuals react rapidly, and often prematurely, to signs of threat, such as unusual noises. Third, they alert other people to imminent danger. Fourth, if they do not receive the support they seek, they intensify their efforts to attract this assistance. Finally, these individuals strive to become as close to other people as possible in threatening situations. These features are called a sentinel schema, because these individuals alert other people.

Ein-Dor, Mikulincer, and Shaver (2011) undertook a series of studies that establish this sentinel schema. In one study, participants wrote a story about a picture that depicted a group of people in a threatening situation. In addition, they completed a measure of attachment style. Independent judges evaluated the extent to which the participants referred to the features of a sentinel schema, such as sensitivity to ambiguous signs of threat and danger as well as warning other people about these hazards. If participants reported an anxious attachment style, they were more likely to allude to the features of a sentinel schema. This association was observed even when personality, social desirability bias, and verbal ability were controlled.

The second study showed that anxious attachment increases the likelihood that individuals will remember information that aligns to a sentinel schema. Participants observed a women answer questions about threatening events as well as neutral events. Participants were more likely to recognize correctly and rapidly answers that epitomize a sentinel schema, such as "I would be very scared. I would scream with fear, turn around, and yell to warn the others". They were not as likely to recognize correctly more composed responses, including "I would turn around and look where the roar was coming from. I am usually calm in these situations. I act according to what I see".

A further study revealed that anxious attachment augments the probability that individuals will process information that aligns to a sentinel schema more extensively and comprehensively. That is, participants were exposed to a story that epitomizes a sentinel schema. They were instructed to present the actual facts of this story and then to share their impressions. Individuals with an anxious attachment tended to extrapolate more extensively, inferring more insights about the thoughts, feelings, and traits of these protagonists. Presumably, their sentinel schema facilitated processing about information congruent information.

The final study examined whether or not anxious attachment actually evokes behaviors that correspond to this sentinel schema. That is, participants were exposed to a threatening situation: a room that was replete with smoke because of a malfunctioning computer. As predicted, if individuals reported an anxious attachment, they were more likely to detect the presence of smoke, after controlling neuroticism and extraversion.

Scripts and schemas associated with an avoidant attachment

As social defense theory indicates (e.g., Ein-Dor, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2011), if individuals demonstrate an avoidant attachment style, a particular schema or script guides their behavior in threatening situations, primarily as a consequence of negligent or disapproving attachment figures. This script comprises several key features. First, because these individuals want to deny their vulnerability or reliance on other people, they tend to trivialize threats. Second, when dangers or threats are unambiguous, they respond rapidly, attempting to protect themselves immediately, either by fleeing or conquering this hazard. Finally, they do not tend to coordinate their efforts with anyone else. This schema is called the rapid fight-flight schema.

Ein-Dor, Mikulincer, and Shaver (2011) conducted a set of studies that establish this rapid fight-flight schema. In one study, participants wrote a story about a picture that depicted a group of people in a threatening situation. Furthermore, they completed a measure of attachment style. Independent judges rated the degree to which the participants referred to the features of a rapid fight-flight schema, such as fleeing the situation without assisting anyone else as well as failing to coordinate, cooperate, or deliberate with anyone else. If participants reported an anxious attachment style, they were especially likely to allude to the features of this schema. This association was observed even when personality, social desirability bias, and verbal ability were controlled.

The second study revealed that an avoidant attachment increases the probability that individuals will remember information that aligns to this rapid fight-flight schema. The participants watched a women answer questions about threatening events and neutral events. Participants were more likely to recognize correctly and rapidly answers that epitomize a rapid fight-flight schema, such as "I deal with the threat by myself. I do not trust others to do the job". They were not as likely to recognize correctly more composed responses, including "I see what others are doing and act accordingly".

A further study showed that avoidant attachment augments the likelihood that individuals will process information that aligns to a rapid fight-flight schema more extensively and comprehensively. That is, participants were exposed to a story that epitomizes a rapid fight-flight schema. They were instructed to present the actual facts of this story and then to share their impressions. Individuals with an avoidant attachment tended to extrapolate more extensively, inferring more insights about the thoughts, feelings, and traits of these protagonists.

Continuous measures of attachment style

Some researchers argue the categorical classification is too restrictive, prohibiting an exploration of graduation in attachment style (e.g., Simpson & Rholes, 1998; Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992). Researchers, therefore, have developed continuous scales to differentiate attachment styles. Brennan, Clark, and Shaver (1998), for example, characterized two continuous dimensions of attachment style that differentiate individuals. The first facet, referred to as anxious or ambivalent attachment, relates to the extent to which individuals are concerned that protective figures might not be available or supportive when threats or adversities impend and, therefore, strive to maintain proximity. They do not perceive themselves as able to resolve issues alone and, hence, develop unfavorable attitudes towards themselves (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), showing elevated levels of neuroticism (Erez, Mikulincer, van Ijzendoorn, & Kroonenberg, 2008).

The second facet, designated as avoidant attachment, relates to the degree to which individuals assume that protective figures are not trustworthy and hostile, provoking a yearning for independence and discomfort with intimacy as well as unfavorable attitudes towards other people (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) and corresponding to lower levels of agreeableness and extraversion (Erez, Mikulincer, van Ijzendoorn, & Kroonenberg, 2008).

This yearning for independence could encourage self enhancement, in which individuals overestimate their capacity to withstand threats and challenges. To illustrate, Bekker, Bachrach, and Croon (2007) found that university students who report an avoidant attachment style also felt they could readily accommodate unexpected changes and novel contexts.

Consequences of attachment style


Individuals who demonstrate neither anxious nor avoidant attachment are designated as secure. Because these individuals assume that protective figures will be supportive, they experience an enduring sense of security, as discussed by Mikulincer and Shaver (2003, 2007). In contrast, individuals who report anxious attachment seek proximity, support, and approval excessively, especially when stressed, perceiving themselves as unable at resolving issues. Individuals who report avoidant attachment, however, reject friends, family, and colleagues, preferring to address problems alone.

Hence, attachment style affects the formation and maintenance of relationships. Relative to their insecure counterparts, individuals who report secure attachment demonstrate more commitment, trust, and satisfaction in romantic relationships (Simpson, 1990; Simpson, Rholes, & Phillips, 1996). They can also overcome problems in relationships more effectively (Blustein, Prezioso, & Schultheiss, 1995; Lopez, 1996).

In short, attachment style does predict satisfaction in relationships as well as duration. A secure attachment style, for example, tends to be associated with more satisfaction with relationships (e.g., Brennan & Shaver, 1995; Feeney, 1994; Keelan, Dion, & Dion, 1998).

Several mechanisms might underpin this association. First, a secure attachment style seems to promote more intimate disclosure, which in turn can facilitate the formation of trusting, committed, and satisfying relationships (Feeney, 1994; Keelan, Dion, & Dion, 1998). Second, a secure attachment style might promote the expression of more positive, suitable, and adaptive emotions, rather than negative affective states, which also facilitates relationships satisfaction (Davila, Bradbury, & Fincham, 1998; Feeney, 1999). Third, individuals with a secure attachment style are more likely to interpret the behavior of their partner as supportive, which enhances relationship satisfaction (Cobb, Davila, & Bradbury, 2001; Meyers & Landsberger, 2002)

Secure attachment style also coincides with more enduring relationships. That is, this attachment style might coincide with the expression of commitment and the experience of satisfaction, both of which can affect the longevity of relationships (Duemmler & Kobak, 2001; Simpson, 1990). Kirkpatrick and Davis (1994), however, showed that individuals who report an anxious-preoccupied attachment style often experienced enduring, but unhappy, relationships.

Attachment style also impinges on the experience and expression of intimacy (e.g., Collins & Feeney, 2004). Intimacy, as defined by Collins and Feeney (2004), encompasses the willingness of individuals to disclose private thoughts, feelings, hopes, and concerns, to seek the emotional support and care of partners, and to engage in physical affection. In general, secure attachment style corresponds to elevated levels of intimacy on these three facets.

Nevertheless, if sexual intercourse is frequent, the relationship between insecure attachment and marital dissatisfaction tends to subside (Little, McNulty, & Russell, 2009). That is, if sex is satisfactory, the detriment impact of insecure attachment dissipates. Presumably, sex facilitates the intimacy that is needed to inhibit, rather than prime, the attachment system of these insecurely attached individuals.

Ambivalence towards relationships

Mikulincer, Shaver, Bar-on, and Ein-Dor (2010) showed that anxious attachment coincides with ambivalent attitudes towards relationships. These researchers utilized a range of measures, including both explicit and implicit techniques, to gauge the attitudes of individuals towards their romantic partners.

To illustrate, in one task, a series of words was presented. In one set of trials, participants needed to press the lever forward, a movement associated with avoidance, whenever they recognized a word (see approach and avoidance motivation. In another set of trials, participants needed to press the lever towards themselves, a movement associated with approach, whenever they recognized a word.

Participants who had previously reported anxious attachment exhibited a fascinating pattern of results. Whenever they needed to press the lever forward, corresponding to avoidance, they responded especially quickly to negative words that were related to closeness in relationships, such as "intrude". Whenever they needed to press the lever towards themselves, corresponding to approach, they responded especially quickly to positive words that were related to closeness in relationships, such as "hug". Therefore, anxious attachment seems to coincide with a motivation to both approach and avoid relationships, epitomizing ambivalence. These findings persisted even after controlling ambivalence to other matters, such as euthanasia, as well as need for cognition.

Participants who reported an avoidant attachment also demonstrated hints of ambivalence as well. They exhibited positive and negative attitudes--that is, approach and avoidance--towards words that relate to distance in relationships, such as lonely and independence.

Business relationships

Paulssen (2009) showed that attachment style, with romantic partners, can also translate to the business environment. Specifically, attachment style with romantic partners was related to trust, satisfaction, and loyalty in business relationships. In other words, working models of attachment, as manifested in romantic relationships, also affect perceptions of business partners.


If people experience a secure attachment, they are more likely to have acquired extensive experience in leadership positions (Popper & Amit, 2009). Specifically, whenever individuals report a secure attachment, they feel that somebody will offer assistance in response to problems; their anxiety, therefore, tends to diminish quickly. Consequently, they embrace risks and assume initiative, increasing their willingness to become a leader.

In addition, because of their trusting relationships, people who report a secure attachment do not feel the need to monitor their friendships vigilantly. Instead, they can explore future possibilities, again facilitating initiative and leadership. Consistent with these possibilities, secure attachment to partners or friends has been shown to be positively associated with leadership experience--and this association is mediated by both limited anxiety and openness to experience (Popper & Amit, 2009).

Burnout in subordinates

If managers experience an insecure attachment style, their subordinates are more likely to report burnout and dissatisfaction at work. This possibility was verified by Ronen and Mikulincer (2013). In this study, managers answered questions that gauge the degree to which they experience an anxious or avoidant attachment. They also answered questions that measure their caring orientation--specifically, whether they avoid caring for other people (e.g., "Thinking about helping others doesn't excite me very much") and whether they feel an intense need to care for other people (e.g., "When I'm unable to help a person who is in distress, I feel worthless"). These two caring orientations are called deactivated and hyperactivated caring respectively. Finally, the subordinates of these managers indicated the degree to which they feel exhausted or dissatisfied at work.

If managers reported elevated levels of anxious attachment, their subordinates were more likely to experience the symptoms of burnout. Hyperactivated caring mediated this relationship. Presumably, when managers experience anxious attachment, they feel the intense need to help their subordinates. They may, therefore, become intrusive, interfering with the autonomy of employees. That is, these intrusions impede the capacity of employees to engross themselves in their work. Instead, these employees tend to be vigilant, culminating in burnout and dissatisfaction.

Altruism and prosocial behavior

When individuals feel stressed or threatened, the attachment system is activated, eliciting behaviors that promote safety and, usually, interfering with other motivations, such as the desire to improve the welfare of other people. Because individuals who report neither an anxious nor avoidant attachment style experience an enduring sense of security, their stress tends to diminish rapidly and hence the likelihood they engage in altruistic and prosocial behavior rises.

In contrast, as Mikulincer and Shaver (2003, 2007) maintain, because individuals with an anxious attachment style feel vulnerable--unable to resolve issues alone--they focus on their own distress, which compromises their capacity to experience empathy towards other people. Furthermore, because individuals with an avoidant attachment style shun intimacy, they separate themselves from the emotions of other people, which also curbs their capacity to experience empathy--ultimately impeding altruistic acts (Batson, 1991).

Gillath, Shaver, Mikulincer, Nitzberg, Erez, and van IJzendoorn (2005) demonstrated that avoidant attachment is inversely related to the frequency of philanthropic activities that individuals undertake--consistent with the proposition that such avoidance fosters distancing, which hinders empathy. Anxious attachment was not related to the frequency of philanthropic activities, but was associated with egocentric motivations to engage in this behavior, which aligns with the self focus these individuals are purported to exhibit. Erez, Mikulincer, van Ijzendoorn, and Kroonenberg (2008) extended these findings, revealing that individuals with anxious attachment will volunteer only when these acts improve their own self esteem, career prospects, social networks, or wellbeing-not because these behaviors align with their values.

Some studies have shown that parental availability fosters cooperative tendencies even in young children. Volling, McElwain, Notaro, and Herrera (2002), for example, monitored the reactions of infants to aversive parental behaviors. Interactions between parents and their infants were recorded on two separate occasions--when the infant was 12 and 16 months old respectively. Researchers coded the behaviours of infants and parents, assessing the availability of parents, as well as whether the infant cooperated with the caregiver. The availability of parents when the infant was 12 months old was positively related to the cooperation these infants demonstrated with their parents 4 months later.

Self-actualization and self-transcendence

A secure attachment style is also related to both self-actualization and self-transcendence. Self-actualization refers to the extent to which people are able to pursue their calling. That is, when self-actualization is high, individuals actualize their potential or passion and, consequently, feel authentic and absorbed in their endeavors. Self-transcendence refers to the tendency of some individuals to identify with a cause, such as social justice, or with a force, such as truth, that exceeds their own personal needs.

Otway and Carnelley (2013) showed that a secure attachment style is positively associated with both self-actualization and self-transcendence. In this study, participants completed the Experiences in Close Relationships to measure attachment style. They also completed a series of measures to gauge self-actualization (e.g., "I am motivated to achieve my full potential") and self-transcendence (e.g., "I identify with something that transcends or extends beyond myself"). The participants also answered questions that assess the degree to which they perceive themselves as likeable and competent.

Both anxious and avoidant attachment were inversely related to self-actualization, and avoidant attachment was inversely related to self-transcendence. These relationships were partly mediated by limited levels of self-liking or self-competence. Presumably, if people experience anxious attachment, they are too preoccupied with reinforcing relationships to actualize their potential. Likewise, if people experience avoidant attachment, they strive to suppress their concerns about relationships, potentially distracting themselves from personal aspirations; furthermore, their unfavorable perspective of other people may limit self-transcendence.

Candor, authenticity, and honesty

As Gillath, Sesko, Shaver, and Chan (2010) showed, attachment style also affects the extent to which individuals experience a sense of authenticity and behave honestly. In particular, if individuals report an anxious attachment style, they often strive to comply with the needs of other people. They will, therefore, sometimes conceal their natural inclinations, sometimes manifesting as insincerity and other defensive responses. In addition, if individuals report an avoidant attachment style, they often strive to detach themselves from dependent relationships. They might, thus, lie to maintain this independence.

Gillath, Sesko, Shaver, and Chan (2010) undertook a series of eight studies to verify these propositions. For example, in the first study, participants completed questionnaires that assess attachment style and authenticity. Some of the facets to gauge authenticity included accurate awareness, such as "For better or worse, I am aware of who I truly am" and authentic behavior, such as ""I frequently pretend to enjoy something when in actuality I don't" (reverse). Insecure attachment styles, especially avoidant attachment, were inversely related to authenticity.

In a subsequent study, attachment style was primed rather than measured. That is, participants undertook a task in which they needed to judge the extent to which two pieces of furniture were similar. Embedded within this task were subliminal presentations of the word "love", to evoke a secure style, or "table", representing a control. Next, participants were granted an opportunity to list their positive traits, negative traits, and previous occasions in which they behaved shamefully. Exposure to the word love, evoking a secure style, increased the likelihood that individuals would concede their negative traits or shameful acts in the past. Secure attachment, thus, seems to be associated with a form of candor or honesty. In a separate study, reminiscing about a time when a close friend or partner was available, supportive, and loving also fostered this openness.

Perception of support

Attachment style affects not only the level of support and altruism that individuals enact, but also the extent to which they perceive other figures in their life as supportive or cooperative. Collins and Read (1990), for example, examined romantic couples in which one member from each pair was instructed to present a speech. The other member prepared one of two letters: a supportive message or an unsupportive message. This message was distributed to their partner before the speech was presented. Speakers who reported high, rather than low, levels of avoidant attachment were more inclined to perceive the message as unsupportive, upsetting, inconsiderate, and hostile.

Individuals who report an anxious attachment anticipate rejection and perceive themselves as unworthy of love and support (Collins & Read, 1990, 1994; Main et al., 1985). Accordingly, these individuals tend to rate faces as less friendly than do secure individuals (Meyer, Pilkonis, & Beevers, 2004)

Emotional regulation in response to stressful events

According to Bowlby (1969), three sets of events can provoke anxiety or alarm in children. The first set of events revolves around the child and includes discomfort, illness, hunger, and fatigue. The second set of events revolves around the caregivers--such as absent, inattentive, departing, or rejecting parents. The third set of events relates to changes in the environment, such as criticisms or exclusion from friends. To regulate these adverse emotions, children are motivated to engage in behaviors that garner proximity and support from their caregivers.

Many studies have shown that secure attachment relates to emotional regulation in children. If individuals exhibit a secure attachment, they report less anxiety and frustration. They also apply more constructive practices to regulate their emotions (for reviews, see Thompson, 2008; Weinfield, Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 2008).

Since the 1980s, a similar perspective has been applied to understand emotional regulation in relationships between romantic partners--rather than merely between parents and children. That is, in short, the same three classes of events can provoke anxiety or alarm in adults, and these feelings can promote behaviors that garner proximity and support from their partners.

For example, Mikulincer, Shaver and Pereg (2003) differentiated three classes of strategies that individuals can apply to seek support from their romantic partners. The first class of strategies assumes the relationship is secure. In these instances, individuals seek, and then receive, proximity and support from their partners when anxious. The support they receive reinforces their sense of security and enables individuals to then return to their ongoing pursuits. Individuals develop positive expectations about the availability and support of partners, family, or friends, which can foster more adaptive and creative responses to future threats.

The second class of strategies epitomizes avoidance attachment. In these instances, when individuals seek proximity and support from their partners, their needs remain unfulfilled. That is, their partner is unavailable or unsupportive. Over time, individuals thus learn to suppress their anxiety and detach themselves emotionally from their partner. In other words, they deactivate their attachment system (cf. Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007)

The third class of strategies epitomizes the concept of hyperactivation or anxious attachment. In these instances, when individuals seek proximity and support from their partners, again their needs remain unfulfilled. That is, the partner rejects this summons to be close and supportive. However, because their anxiety merely amplifies, these individuals attempt to magnify their pursuit of closeness and support, and thus seek reassurance excessively (Shaver, Schachner, & Mikulincer, 2005), which merely exacerbates the rejection from their partner.

When individuals who are anxiously attached experience threats to their relationship, they orient almost all of their attention to the attachment figure, to restore stability (Crisp, Farrow, Rosenthal, Walsh, Blisset, & Penn, 2009). Hence, their sense of identity with other frienship groups actually declines. In contrast, when individuals who are not anxiously attached experience threats to their relationship, they orient some of their attention to other potential sources of social support, because these friendships or collectives can also provide many benefits to wellbeing (Crisp, Farrow, Rosenthal, Walsh, Blisset, & Penn, 2009). Their sense of identity with friendship circles increases. Crisp, Farrow, Rosenthal, Walsh, Blisset, and Penn (2009) substantiated these propositions, using both explicit and implicit measures of group identification.

Individuals who report anxious attachment seek support. As a consequence, they often inflate their distress to elicit support from attachment figures (Cassidy, 2000). In contrast, individuals who report avoidant attachment prefer to perceive themselves as independent, to ensure they do not need to rely on support. Accordingly, they maintain distance and do not rely on other individuals (Cassidy, 2000).

Attachment style also affects sensitivity to threats. For example, individuals who report an anxious attachment style are especially sensitive to unfavorable evaluations from other individuals. As Srivastava and Beer (2005) showed, individuals with an anxious attachment were very sensitive to the evaluations of their partners. That is, they rated themselves negatively especially if they were evaluated harshly by their partners.

Experimental studies have also emphasized the role of attachment style on emotional regulation. When individuals reflect upon a supportive attachment figure, called security priming (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007), their mood and wellbeing tends to improve; furthermore, their attitudes and behaviors towards other individuals becomes more favorable (see Mikulincer, Hirschberger, Nachmias, & Gillath, 2001; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001; Mikulincer, Shaver, & Horesh, 2006).

Emotional regulation in response to upsetting memories

Thoughts about attachment figures, such as a supportive mother, have been shown to alleviate negative emotions that were evoked by stressful events. Selcuk, Zayas, Gunaydin, Hazan, C., and Kross (2012), however, showed that thoughts about attachment figures also alleviate negative emotions that were evoked by upsetting memories.

For example, in one study, participants vividly wrote about two upsetting events in their life. They also identified a couple of words that may cue or evoke each memory later. A day or so later, participants were exposed to these memory cues and asked to reflect upon the corresponding upsetting experience as deeply and vividly as possible. Either before or after this memory was evoked, participants were asked to remember a supportive interaction with their mother or with a distant acquaintance. Their emotions were assessed at various times during this session.

Unsurprisingly, upsetting memories evoked negative emotions. However, if participants had recalled an interaction with their mother after this memory had been evoked, these negative emotions abated rapidly. Yet, if participants had recalled an interaction with their mother before this memory had been evoked, these negative emotions did not abate as rapidly. Furthermore, recollections of a supportive interaction with an acquaintance did not alleviate these negative emotions. Thoughts about a mother, therefore, can alleviate, but not prevent, these negative emotions.

Three other studies extended and clarified these findings, rejecting alternative explanations. For example, the same pattern of results was observed even if participants were exposed only to a photograph of their mother and even if mood was assessed implicitly, with a technique called the IPANAT (see implicit measures of mood and emotions). Similarly, the same pattern of results was observed even if participants reflected upon their romantic partner instead of their mother. Finally, these effects were not as pronounced if participants reported an avoidant attachment.

Physiological reactivity

When individuals experience a secure attachment, their physiological response to stress declines rapidly. In particular, compared to individuals with an insecure attachment style, individuals with a secure attachment style exhibit a pronounced increase in physiological indices of stress in response to threatening events: their eyes open abruptly and substantially. However, in these individuals, these physiological indices dissipate more rapidly as well.

This pattern was observed in a study conducted by Borelli, Crowley, David, Sbarra, Anderson, and Mayers (2010). In this study, participants were children, aged between 8 and 12. First, the child attachment interview was conducted to establish the attachment style of these individuals. They received 19 questions about their experiences with caregivers. The answers were coded on eight scales, such as idealization, preoccupying anger, and balance of positive and negative references, on nine point scales. The children were then divided into four categories: secure, dismissing, preoccupied, and disorganized.

In addition, individuals were exposed to a series of pictures, while auditory probes were presented occasionally. Some of these pictures coincided with a puff of air to the neck, representing a subtle threat or discomfort. Changes in the pupil size, in response to each auditory probe, were assessed. Finally, levels of cortisol was assessed before and after the interviews and before and after the probe task. In addition, an explicit measure of mood was administered as well.

Relative to the other children, the children who demonstrated a secure attachment style exhibited a larger change in pupil size--that is, a more pronounced startle reflex--in response to auditory tones that coincided with the threatening pictures. That is, if the photograph sometimes coincides with a puff of air, the auditory tone elicited an elevated startle, particularly in secure children. Nevertheless, pupil size diminished more rapidly in these children as well.

Presumably, secure children feel that caregivers will resolve stressful events. Hence, they are more receptive to these stressful events, but also experience a sense of safety after a fleeting delay (Borelli, Crowley, David, Sbarra, Anderson, & Mayers, 2010). These findings are consistent with the discovery that secure children, during social interactions, exhibit less frustration and aggression (Sroufe, Schork, Motti, Lawroski, & LaFreniere, 1984).

The immune system

Anxious attachment might compromise the immune system. For example, in one study, conducted by Jaremka, Glaser, Loving, Malarkey, Stowell, and Kiecolt-Glaser (2013), married couples completed the Experiences in Close Relationships, a measure of attachment style. Saliva samples were collected several times across three days, primarily to measure cortisol levels. Blood samples were collected twice to measure cellular immune markers. When anxious attachment was elevated, cortisol levels tended to be elevated. These elevated levels of cortisol were inversely associated with the number of CD3+, CD45+, CD3+CD4+ helper, and CD3+CD8+ cytotoxic T cells.

As these results show, if individuals experience anxious attachment, they are more inclined to perceive events as threatening. Consequently, they often experience stress. This stress seems to diminish the activation of T cells. These T cells are integral to many facets of the immune response. When the number of T cells is limited, the body cannot as readily defend against pathogens.

In particular, T cells, like B cells and Natural Killer cells, are a subset of white blood cells called lymphocytes. These T cells mature in an organ, near the top of the rib cage, called the thymus. T helper cells facilitate the maturation of B cells and also activate cytotoxic T cells and macrophages. Cytotoxic T cells eliminate cells that are infected by viruses.

Wellbeing and self compassion

Wei, Liao, Ku, and Shaffer (2011) examined the mechanisms that underpin the relationship between attachment style and wellbeing. They found that self compassion, in which individuals maintain a caring and compassionate attitude towards themselves particularly during challenging times, mediates the association between anxious attachment and indices of wellbeing. In contrast, limited empathy towards other people mediates the association between avoidant attachment and wellbeing.

Specifically, if parents are unpredictable, their children become vigilant, always striving to monitor and modify their behavior to avoid punishment, manifesting as anxious attachment. When punished, they assume they had not acted suitably, and thus attempt to be more vigilant in the future. They will, therefore, blame difficulties on their own shortfalls, culminating in self castigation instead of self compassion (Wei, Liao, Ku, & Shaffer, 2011). As this self compassion dissipates, individuals do not buttress their emotions with tender and kind words to themselves. Their mood and wellbeing thus diminish.

In contrast, if parents are entirely unsupportive, their children learn to become independent, curbing their reliance on other people, manifesting as avoidant attachment. They do not, therefore, attempt to modify their behavior to accommodate other people. Hence, they are not as likely to monitor the intentions and emotions of other individuals, curbing empathy (Wei, Liao, Ku, & Shaffer, 2011). As empathy diminishes, the capacity of individuals to respond suitably in social situations diminishes, and wellbeing declines.

Wei, Liao, Ku, and Shaffer (2011) confirmed these arguments in both college students and in a community sample of adults. Structural equation modeling confirmed that self compassion mediated the association between anxious attachment and wellbeing, as gauged by affectivity and life satisfaction. Furthermore, limited empathy mediated the association between avoidant attachment and wellbeing. Nevertheless, both attachment styles also directly affected wellbeing. Mediation was thus partial only.

Emotional intelligence

As Lanciano, Curci, Kafetsios, Elia, and Lucia (2012) showed, attachment style is also associated with measures of emotional intelligence. In this study, participants first completed the relationship questionnaire, in which four prototypical attachment styles are described, and individuals indicate the degree to which these descriptions align to their tendencies. Next, they completed a scale that assesses three facets of rumination: brooding (e.g., "I often think 'Why do I always react this way?'"), depressive rumination (e.g., "I often think about how sad I feel?"), and reflection. Finally, the MSCEIT, designed to assess the capacity of individuals to perceive and recognize emotions accurately, utilize emotions to solve problems, understand the sources of emotions, and manage ore regulate emotions, was administered.

Two facets of emotional intelligence--emotion perception and emotion management--mediated the association between both insecure attachment styles and brooding. Two other facets of emotional intelligence--utilizing and understanding emotions--mediated the association between both insecure attachment styles and depressive rumination.

Presumably, when individuals experience insecure attachment, they either suppress or overreact to emotional cues. Consequently, they may not perceive or recognize emotions accurately. Their capacity to predict, utilize, and regulate emotions thus diminishes, manifesting as impaired emotional intelligence. Because of this impairment, negative emotions persist, increasing the likelihood of brooding and rumination about problems.

Emotional experiences

Attachment style also has been shown to be associated with the experience of various positive emotions. As Shiota, Keltner, and John (2006) showed, an anxious attachment style is negatively associated with joy, contentment, pride, and love. Avoidant attachment, however, was negatively associated with love and compassion.

To gauge these emotions, Shiota, Keltner, and John (2006) asked individuals to evaluate their dispositional affective traits, using the Dispositional Positive Emotion Scales. Typical items for various emotions include:

  • Joy: I often feel bursts of joy; I am an intensely cheerful person
  • Contentment: I am at peace with my life; My life is very fulfilling
  • Pride: I am proud of myself and my accomplishments; Many people respect me
  • Love: I develop strong feelings of closeness to people easily; I love many people
  • Compassion: Taking care of others gives me a warm feeling inside
  • Amusement: I find humor in almost everything; I make jokes about everything
  • Awe: I feel wonder almost every day; I see beauty all around me

The measure comprises 38 items. The level of Cronbach's alpha for each scale was: .82 for joy, .92 for contentment, .80 for pride, 0.80 for love, 0.80 for compassion, 0.75 for amusement, and .78 for awe.

Several mechanisms could underpin the inverse association between avoidant attachment and emotional regulation. Individuals who report an avoidant attachment shun intimacy and, therefore, might be less inclined to divulge their feelings and concerns. They might not disclose their anxieties, doubts, or problems to their friends. These individuals, hence, do not enjoy the benefits of disclosure--satisfaction with life (Kahn & Hessling, 2001) and alleviation of depression (Berg & McQuinn, 1989).

The importance of self disclosure, and hence the drawbacks of avoidant attachment, are especially pronounced when the implicit and explicit motives of individuals diverge. That is, some individuals often project their motives onto their interpretations of events. They might, for example, frequently ascribe the behavior of individuals to the pursuit of power or influence. These interpretations imply a motive to seek power. Nevertheless, these individuals might contend they prefer to maintain solid relationships than to seek power or influence.

This incongruence tends to undermine life satisfaction and mood. This problem, however, dissipates if individuals divulge their feelings to friends (Langan-Fox, Sankey, & Canty, 2009).

Attention to relationship cues

Attachment style might affect the distribution of attention. To illustrate, individuals who report an avoidant attachment tend to direct their attention away from cues that relate to relationships.

This inclination was substantiated by Edelstein and Gillath (2008). In this study, participants completed a Stroop task. In this task, a series of words was presented. Participants were asked to name the font color of these words. When the words were related to facets of relationships, such as "adore", "abandon", "divorce", "lonely", or "loving", participants who reported an avoidant attachment were relatively proficient at this task.

According to Edelstein and Gillath (2008), some words, such as negative terms, attract attention. Participants thus focus on the semantics of this word, instead of the color, which compromises performance on this task. Conversely, other words do not attract attention. Participants can orient attention to the color, which facilitates performance. The results of this study, therefore, indicate that individuals who demonstrate avoidant attachment tend to direct their attention away from symbols that relate to relationships.

Shifting attention and distractions

In general, individuals who report avoidant attachment can shift attention more rapidly, as well as resist distractions more effectively, than other people. For example, in one study, conducted by Gillath, Giesbrecht, and Shaver (2009), participants undertook a task that assesses the psychological refractory period. On each trial, a yellow or blue square first appeared. Then, 50 ms, 150ms, 250 ms, or 350 ms later, an X or O appeared. After these stimuli appeared, participants needed to press one of two buttons to indicate the color of this square and then to press one of two other buttons to indicate the letter.

If participants reported elevated levels of avoidant attachment, as measured by the Experiences in Close Relationships inventory, they performed more effectively on this task. That is, unlike people who did not report an avoidant attachment, they could rapidly identify the letter than appeared only 50 or 150 ms after the square. They could, therefore, switch rapidly from the square to the letter. Even after behavioral activation and behavioral inhibition (reinforcement sensitivity theory), personality as gauged by the five factor model, and trait anxiety were controlled, this relationship persisted.

In a subsequent study, Gillath, Giesbrecht, and Shaver (2009) administered a flanker task instead to gauge selective attention. On each trial, a sequence of arrows, like < < > < <, appeared. Participants had to press one of two buttons depending on the whether the central arrow pointed to the left or right. The surrounding arrows were either congruent or incongruent with the central arrow. If participants reported elevated levels of avoidant attachment, their reaction time was not as dependent on whether the surrounding arrows were congruent or incongruent, but only if they also reported elevated levels of anxious attachment. Thus, avoidant attachment, when combined with anxious attachment, enhanced the capacity of individuals to disregard extraneous information.

In the final study reported by Gillath, Giesbrecht, and Shaver (2009), participants performed the same task after reflecting upon either a secure, supportive, and trusting or an insecure, unsupportive, and unstable relationship. After an insecure relationship was primed, the benefits of avoidant attachment on selective attention dissipated.

Taken together, these findings imply that individuals with an avoidant attachment develop the capacity to suppress unwanted thoughts effectively. They can rapidly switch their attention from cues of rejection, for example, to more desirable events. They can disregard unpleasant experiences as well. However, insecure relationships might evoke powerful, negative cognitions in these individuals, compromising their capacity to switch attention and disregard information. A practical implication is that, perhaps, employees might be less likely to be distracted if they remember a time in which they solved problems independently, evoking an avoidant attachment style.

Attachment to objects

When people feel that close friends or family are unreliable--that is, they are not always available when needed--they become more attached to objects, such as mobile telephones. They feel especially uneasy when these objects are removed from their possession even momentarily. Specifically, these people experience a natural urge to depend on something that is reliable and predictable. Objects obviously fulfill this need.

This possibility was assessed by Keefer, Landau, Rothschild, and Sullivan (2012) across three studies. In each study, some participants wrote about a time in which a close friend or relative was not available when needed or wrote about their uncertainties about these relationships. In the control conditions, participants wrote about a time in which a stranger was not when needed or in which they felt disappointed or uncertain about themselves.

Subsequently, participants completed a measure that assesses the extent to which they exhibit object attachment. For example, in one study, they completed a scale that gauges whether they experience separation anxiety when this object is removed, feel a need to remain close to this object, and depend on this object. A sample question is "I feel lost if I'm upset and my belongings are not around". In another study, participants were informed their mobile phone would be returned after they completed another essay. Participants who wrote a short essay were assumed to feel the need to return to their phone, a behavioral measure of object attachment.

All these studies showed that, compared to the control conditions, writing about an unreliable close friend or relative amplified object attachment. This relationship was mediated by anxious attachment, as measured by the ECR. Furthermore, this relationship persisted even after use of the mobile phone to maintain relationships was controlled.

Similarly, in addition to objects, favored TV programs can also fulfill this need to belong, called the social surrogacy hypothesis (Derrick, Gabriel, & Hugenberg, 2009). To illustrate, after people wrote about a conflict with a close friend or relative, amplifying their need to belong, they dedicated more time to writing about their favorite TV program (Derrick, Gabriel, & Hugenberg, 2009). Similarly, after people wrote about their favorite TV programs, they become more resilient. They reported fewer feelings of rejection, as well as a more robust self-esteem, even after reflecting upon a major conflict in their lives. Finally, after people reflected upon their favorite TV program, words that are associated with rejection were not as accessible (Derrick, Gabriel, & Hugenberg, 2009). That is, if instructed to uncover the word that corresponds to exc - - - - , they tended to write excite rather than exclude.

Clothes and shoes

The attachment style of people also correlates with the shoes they wear. For example, as Gillath, Bahns, Ge, and Crandall (2012) showed, if people report an anxious attachment, in which they are often worried they may be rejected or excluded, their shoes are not as likely to be colorful or worn. Presumably, these individuals do not want their shoes to be conspicuous or inappropriate. In contrast, if people report an avoidant attachment, their shoes tend to be higher.

Work attitudes

Hazan and Shavers (1990) argued that secure attachment should promote satisfaction with work. Specifically, work can be conceptualized as an exploratory behavior, demanding a secure base. A secure attachment affords the secure base that is necessary to foster exploratory behavior and elevate job satisfaction.

Consistent with these premises, they discovered that secure individuals, relative to their insecure counterparts, were more inclined to feel satisfied with their job, to feel confident about their work, to adjust more adaptively to work environments, and to be liked by colleagues. Ambivalent employees, however, worried about work performance, conceptualized work as a means to satisfy unmet needs for love, and preferred roles in which they worked with other colleagues. Avoidant employees, however, preferred to work alone and were dissatisfied with colleagues.

Since this study, other research has confirmed the pertinence of attachment style to the work environment (see Joplin, Nelson, & Quick, 1999; Krausz, Bizman, & Braslavsky, 2001). attachment insecurity tends to coincide with burnout (Pines, 2004), work stress (Schirmer & Lopez, 2001), and deficits in engagement (Ronen & Mikulincer, 2007).

Work behavior

A secure attachment is also associated with elevated levels of organizational citizenship behavior but limited levels of turnover. In particular, as Richards and Schat (2011) showed, anxious attachment was inversely associated with organizational citizenship behavior directed at the organization, but positively associated with turnover, even after controlling personality. Presumably, these individuals cannot readily resolve the complications and demands of work; they cannot therefore devote their effort to other activities, such as discretionary tasks that improve the organization. Their strain also curbs their loyalty to the workplace.

Unethical behavior in business

People often need to negotiate on behalf of someone else. The person who negotiates is called the agent. The person the agent represents is called the principal. Sometimes, however, agents will undertake an action that enhances their own interests to the detriment of their principal. As Lee and Thompson (2011) showed, a secure attachment tends to curb the likelihood of this problem.

In this study, participants assumed the role of an agent negotiating a real estate deal for a principal, either the vendor or the buyer. The agents needed to resolve a dispute between the buyer and seller over a historical heritage in New York. The seller wanted to ensure the buyer preserves the original site and prohibits commercial use. The buyer wanted to build luxurious hotels on the site. If the agents considered the needs of their principals, they would not reach a deal. If they disregarded the needs of their principals, they might reach a deal to earn a bonus.

Before the negotiation, attachment style with the principal was manipulated. For example, to evoke a secure attachment, they imagined a time in which they felt secure and comfortable with a client. To evoke an anxious attachment, they imagined a time in which they were reliant on a client who did not value the relationship. To evoke an avoidant attachment, they imagined a time in which the client was too dependent.

If a secure attachment was evoked, agents tended to reach decisions that align to the interests of the principal: they did not accept the deal. If an avoidant attachment was evoked, agents were especially likely to disregard the needs of their principal; an anxious attachment generated a tendency that was midway between these extremes (Lee & Thompson, 2011).

A secure attachment, presumably, increases the likelihood that people want to establish and maintain a shared relationship. That is, personal needs integrate the desires and concerns of the other person. Thus, this attachment style promotes honesty and openness. Anxious attachment in people shifts attention to their own preoccupations, undermining this appreciation of the needs and concerns of the principal. Avoidant attachment elicits a need for independence, curbing any obligation to the principal.

Commitment and persistence while solving problems

When people need to solve a problem, such as eliminate a virus from a computer, they are often distracted by other obstacles or opportunities. Anxious attachment, however, diminishes the likelihood that people will be distracted as they strive to solve problems. People who report an anxious attachment are more persistent and committed to the resolution of these problems (Ein-Dor & Tal, 2012).

This observation can be ascribed to the strategies that anxiously attached individuals adopt to resolve problems. During childhood, anxious attachment is associated with the tendency of individuals to direct all their attention to their main attachment figure, often their mother, while stressed. Over time, therefore, they learn to focus their attention on one solution to their problems and disregard other cues in the environment.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Ein-Dor and Tal (2012), undergraduate students completed a questionnaire that gauges attachment style and then began another task. Midway during this task, an error message appeared on the screen, indicating that a pernicious virus may soon delete the hard drive. The experimenter pretended to be distraught and asked the participants to seek help from the Dean's assistant manager.

Four obstacles were arranged to impede participants. For example, a person asked participants to complete a short survey, another person asked them to photocopy some papers, a sign on the door asked visitors to wait, and so forth. If participants reported an anxious attachment, however, they were not as likely to be impeded by these obstacles but sought help successfully.

Effort and retention

Individuals with an anxious attachment are especially motivated to establish intimate relationships and avoid rejection. Consequently, they may strive to comply with the needs of therapists, counsellors, and other professionals. This motivation may increase their retention in programs that are designed to address problems.

This possibility was raised and validated by Fowler, Groat, and Ulanday (2013). These authors showed that an anxious attachment style, as gauged by the Relationship Questionnaire, predicted retention in a program intended to treat substance abuse. This relationship persisted even after controlling other psychiatric disorders.

Career indecision

Attachment style might also affect the extent to which individuals feel certain about their choice of career. In particular, as Blustein, Prezioso, and Schultheiss (1995) maintain, when attachment is secure, individuals feel they can explore their identity and interests, embracing the risks this pursuit might entail. As a consequence of this pursuit, they form a more comprehensive, complete, and coherent representation of themselves. They become more sensitive to their personal values and needs. Furthermore, because of this secure attachment style, they perceive themselves as worthy of support; they perceive themselves positively. This coherent and positive perception of themselves ensures they are more confident with career decisions.

Several studies confirm this argument. In a study conducted by Emmanuelle (2009), for example, a sample of 241 adolescents, aged between 15 and 19, completed a scale that assesses their attachment with their parents; specifically, this questionnaire ascertained the extent to which they developed a trusting, candid relationship with their mother and father rather than a sense of alienation. In addition, these individuals answered questions that assess whether they can readily reach career decisions, with questions like "I find it easy to make decisions". Finally, they completed a measure of global self esteem.

For boys, a secure attachment with their father was positively related to self esteem, which in turn was inversely associated with career indecision. In contrast, for girls, a secure attachment with their mother was positively related to self esteem, which in turn was negatively associated with career indecision. attachment with parents of the same sex, thus, seems to be the main determinant of both self esteem and the capacity to reach career decisions.


Anxious attachment also promotes materialism or a tendency in people to attach significant weight on money or material goods (Norris, Lambert, Dewall, & Fincham, 2012). That is, when individuals experience an anxious attachment, they tend to direct all their attention on maintaining proximity to one significant person, such as their mother. Alternatively, people often substitute a significant person with a significant object. Consequently, anxious attachment may be associated with the inclination to direct their attention to objects, manifesting as materialism.

This possibility was confirmed by Norris, Lambert, Dewall, and Fincham (2012). In one study, participants completed the experience of close relationships scale, designed to gauge attachment style. They also completed a scale that gauges materialism, epitomized by items such as "I admire people who own expensive cars" and "The things I own say a lot about how I am doing in life". An anxious attachment was positively associated with materialism, r=.34. A subsequent study showed that feelings of loneliness mediated this relationship. Therefore, materialism may, at least momentarily, reflect an attempt to override loneliness--but ultimately tends to impair wellbeing.


Attachment style affects the dreams of individuals. Specifically, as Contelmo, Hart, and Levine (2013) showed, when people exhibit anxious attachment, they are more inclined to become fixated on their dreams. For example, they concede they often feel unsafe in their dreams and are even apprehensive about dreaming. They are also more inclined to confuse their dreams and reality, uncertain of whether a memory of an event was real or not. In addition, they are more likely to feel their dreams are significant rather than random thoughts and may consult books to interpret these dreams.

In contrast, when people report an avoidant attachment, their experience of dreams is quite different. They are not as likely as the average person to confuse dreams and reality or experience lucid dreams. They are also more inclined to perceive dreams as random thoughts rather than significant. Finally, they do not likely to recall many dreams.

Presumably, anxious attachment, and the corresponding hyper-activating strategies, motivates individuals to analyze emotional and social information carefully. They often strive to interpret subtle cues, a tendency that evolves from their sensitivity to rejection. Dreams include social and emotional cues and, therefore, are perceived as significant and important to these individuals. Avoidant attachment, and their corresponding deactivating strategies, motivate individuals to dismiss or suppress social information in general and thus to trivialize their dreams in particular.

The ownership bias

Similarly, many individuals overestimate the value of their possessions. That is, they feel that some object they own, like a pen or jewelry, is worth more than are similar objects they do not own. This tendency, called the ownership bias, is assumed to promote materialism. That is, individuals who significantly value their possessions like to own and retain more goods.

To some extent, a sense of insecurity could amplify this ownership bias. Specifically, throughout human evolution, to survive and to thrive, people need to rely either on the support of their community or their own personal resources. That is, if support is likely to be withdrawn, individuals must utilize their own resources, such as weapons or power. If these resources are limited, they must rely on the support of family, friends, and other members of their community. Accordingly, if they feel insecure--and thus concerned they might be rejected or abandoned--personal resources become more important. They become more likely to value their possessions and provisions.

Consistent with these arguments, Clark, Greenberg, Hill, Lemay, Clark-Polner, and Roosth (2011) showed that a sense of security, similar to a secure attachment style, should curb the ownership bias. In one study, some participants were instructed to recall a time in which they felt supported or secure. Other participants, in the control condition, were instructed to recall a time in which enjoyed an pleasant experience in a restaurant--an experience that is not explicitly related to security. Next, participants specified the minimum amount they would accept to sell the blanket on their bed. If participants had imagined a time in which they felt secure, they did not value the blanket as appreciably; they did not show the ownership bias.

The second study by Clark, Greenberg, Hill, Lemay, Clark-Polner, and Roosth (2011) was similar, but different procedures were utilized to elicit a sense of security and measure the ownership bias. Specifically, the sentence unscrambling task was applied to evoke a sense of security, positive emotions, or no emotions. For example, to elicit a sense of security, participants were exposed to words like hug, love, reassuring, shares, support, commitment, and comfort. To elicit positive emotions, they were exposed to words such as laughter, festive, merry, triumphant and victory. Then, participants were bestowed a pen, with the university logo. From a list of options, they were asked to indicate the price at which they would return the pen. Again, consistent with hypotheses, when security had been elicited, the ownership bias dissipated. They were willing to the return the pen at a reduced price.

Neuro-anatomical underpinnings of attachment

As Warren, Bost, Roisman, Silton, Spielberg, Engels, Choi, Sutton, Miller, and Heller (2011) showed, the brain regions that are activated by emotional stimuli depends on attachment style. In their study, participants completed the emotion-word Stroop task. That is, a series of emotional words, like death, was presented. The task of participants was to name the color of these words. As they completed this task, functional magnetic resonance imaging was utilized to ascertain which regions were especially active.

In addition, to assess the attachment style of individuals, participants were granted opportunities to report narratives about threatening events. Some participants, for example, referred to the availability of supportive figures in their life and the likelihood the solution would be resolved, reflecting a secure attachment style.

If participants did not report a secure attachment style, the emotional Stroop task was especially likely to increase activity in the right orbitofrontal cortex and other regions that mediate emotional regulation. Furthermore, in these individuals, this task also increased activity in regions that underpin cognitive control: the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the superior frontal gyrus. As these findings imply, if individuals exhibit an insecure attachment style, they seem to be especially susceptible to emotional stimuli. Hence, regions that resolve these emotions are mobilized. In addition, regions that enable individuals to maintain their orientation on other tasks, in the midst of emotional information, need to be activated more intensely.

Moderators of these consequences

The attachment system tends to be activated in response to threatening events (Mikulincer, Birnbaum, Woddis, & Nachmias, 2000). Hence, the relationship between attachment style and consequences tends to be more pronounced in stressful or threatening environments.

Softening communication

Often, romantic couples engage in discussions in which one person wants the other person to change some behavior or habit. The person who is asked to change will often feel angry, and may also feel motivated to withdraw from this discussion, especially if this individual exhibits avoidant attachment. Yet, as Overall, Simpson, and Struthers (2013) showed, if the person who seeks the change utilizes a specific tactic, called softening communication, this problem subsides.

Softening communication entails two key facets (Overall, Simpson, & Struthers, 2013). First, the person needs to offer unambiguous support, primarily to challenge the assumption of avoidant individuals that caregivers are unsupportive. That is, this person needs to demonstrate they value the avoidant individual. The person could emphasize the qualities of this avoidant individual, for example. Second, the person needs to demonstrate sensitivity towards the preference of avoidant individuals to sustain autonomy. This person should, for example, downplay the severity of this problem and validate the perspective of the avoidant individual.

Overall, Simpson, and Struthers (2013) validated these arguments empirically. In this study, romantic couples discussed an issue in which one person wanted to change the other person. The person who was encouraged to change also completed measures of attachment style as well as feelings of anger and withdrawal. Independent judges coded the degree to which the person who wanted to change the other person utilized softening tactics. Avoidance was associated with anger and withdrawal, but this association diminished when softening tactics were utilized.

Development of attachment styles


The internal working models of individuals partly shapes the interpretation of all social interactions and thus permeates most, if not all, relationships (Bowlby, 1988; Shaver, Collins, & Clark, 1996). As a consequence, individuals will often exhibit similar attachment styles in different relationships. Indeed, as individuals grow, the separate working models that correspond to each attachment figure begin to merge, at least partly, cultivating generalized expectations of other individuals (Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985).

Nevertheless, the attachment style of each relationship is not only governed by internal working models, but also depends on the profile of unique experiences the dyad shares (Cummings & Cicchetti, 1990; Kobak, 1994). Consistent with this proposition, the attachment style of individuals has been shown to vary across their relationships (La Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci, 2000).

Baldwin, Carrell, and Lopez (1990) also showed how relational schemas are specific to particular relationships. In their study, participants were subliminally exposed to photographs of a disapproving or approving individual. The disapproving individual compromised the confidence of participants, but only if this person was pertinent to their life. To illustrate, a photograph of a disapproving Pope, for example, compromised the self evaluations of participants, but only if these individuals were Catholic.

Dynamics over time

The internal working models can change over time, albeit gradually and slowly (Bowlby, 1988). Specifically, these schemas may be modified according to fundamental learning principles, such as classical conditioning (Baldwin & Dandeneau, 2005; Shaver et al., 1996).

Indeed, many studies have examined the extent to which attachment style-usually defined as internal working models about relationships in general-change over time (e.g., Baldwin & Fehr, 1995; Kirkpatrick & Hazen, 1994; Scharfe & Bartholomew, 1994). The general consensus is that attachment style seems to be relatively stable across time, even across years or decades (Waters, Merrick, Treboux, Crowell, & Albersheim, 2000). Nevertheless, approximately 25% of individuals do show changes in their attachment styles.

That is, traumatic events or upheaval in close relationships can damage attachment styles (Rothbard & Shaver, 1994). Conversely, very supportive relationships can improve the security of attachments styles as well (Pearson, Cohn, Cowan, & Cowan, 1994).

Other factors also seem to provoke changes in attachment style (see Davila, Karney, & Bradbury, 1999; Waters, Weinfield and Hamilton, 2000; Weinfield, Sroufe, & Egelund, 2000). For example, negative life events (Waters, Weinfield and Hamilton, 2000), and perhaps other experiences (see Davila, Karney, & Bradbury, 1999), seem to coincide with changes in attachment style. Personality might also affect the likelihood of shifts in attachment style in response to specific life events.

Several factors could affect the capacity of individuals to form trusting and solid relationships, and these relationships could ultimately impinge on the attachment style of individuals. For example, Nahrgang, Morgeson, and Ilies (2009) examined the factors that affected the development of trusting and stable relationships between employees and their supervisors, called leader-member exchange.

The results of this study were very informative. First, over time, supervisors develop stronger relationships with some employees relative to other employees. In particular, during the early phases of these relationships, leaders developed stronger relationships with extraverted employees. Employees developed stronger relationships with agreeable leaders. Second, over time, relationships tend to become increasingly strong over time, but eventually plateau. Once the relationship begins to plateau, performance of each individual was the key determinant of relationship trust and stability.

Genetics versus the environment

As Fraley, Roisman, Booth-LaForce, Owen, and Holland (2013) showed, variations in attachment style can primarily be ascribed to the social environment of individuals, such as the behavior of caregivers, emerging social competence, and quality of friendships. In contrast, few of the genetic polymorphisms that have been examined in this literature correlate with attachment style; one exception is the polymorphism in the serotonin receptor gene (HTR2A rs6313), which correlates modestly with anxious attachment. Oxytonergic and dopaminergic genes did not seem to be related to attachment style in this study.

In particular, the participants were 18 year old individuals, whose behavior and environment had been studied from birth to age 15. At 18, these individuals completed the Relationships Scales Questionnaire, to measure their general levels of anxiety and avoidance attachment, and the Experiences in Close Relationships. Previously, about 11 times throughout their lives, three facets of their caregiving environment was assessed: the degree to which their mother was sensitive to their needs, as gauged from watching interactions on video, maternal depression, and absence of the father. Their mothers and teachers had also rated their social competence throughout their lives. And the children themselves rated the quality of their friendships. Furthermore, while 54 months, the mothers rated their temperament on several attributes, such as their level of activity or restlessness, shyness, focused attention, passivity, and fear. Finally, genotyping was conducted.

Regression analysis showed that avoidance attachment was associated with low maternal sensitivity, social incompetence, and impaired friendships--although the measured variables explained only 29% of the variation. Caregiver experiences and genetics do not entirely explain attachment style. Anxious attachment was associated with maternal depression and social incompetence. Yet, improved friendships over time were also associated with anxious attachment in relationships, although the explanation of this result is unknown.

Furthermore, individuals carrying two, rather than one or zero, C alleles of the HTR2A rs6313 SNP gene, associated with sensation seeking and reward dependence, reported more anxious attachment. Furthermore, the association between maternal sensitivity and avoidant attachment was not as strong in the individuals with C rather than T alleles. Temperament was not associated with attachment style.

Divorced parents

Individuals whose parents divorced are often more likely to exhibit insecure attachment styles later in life (Fraley & Heffernan, 2013). If the divorce proceeded while the children were young, below 7 or so, this pattern of observations is especially pronounced, sometimes called the sensitive period hypothesis. Furthermore, divorce primarily affects attachment style to parents rather than attachment style to romantic partners or friends.

In the first study conducted by Fraley and Heffernan (2013), over 12 000 people completed a survey over the internet. These individuals completed measures of anxious and avoidant attachment with their mothers, fathers, romantic partners, and friends. In addition, individuals indicated if and when their parents divorced. Divorce was especially likely to be associated with anxious and avoidant attachment to both fathers and, to a lesser extent, mothers. If the divorce had proceeded earlier, rather than later, in the life of these participants, these patterns were especially pronounced. But, divorce was not significantly related to anxious or avoidant attachment to romantic partners or friends.

The second study was conducted to replicate the first study. The measures were the same, except participants were also asked to indicate which parent was granted primary custody of the children. Interestly, custody with one parent compromised attachment style to the other parent. Because, individuals tended to live with their mothers, divorce was thus more likely to undermine relationships with the father. When individuals lived with their fathers instead, attachment style to their mothers was more likely to be undermined by divorce.

In this study, divorce did not compromise attachment to friends and romantic partners, but only slightly. This finding is consistent with the notion that experiences in one domain only marginally affect expectations of relationships in other domains.

Several accounts can explain the finding that divorce during early childhood is especially consequential. During the first few years of life, the nervous system is especially plastic and thus sensitive to adversities. In addition, early experiences can shape expectations, and hence the effects, of subsequent experiences.


Two main classes of measures have been developed to assess attachment style (for more information and details, see measures and manipulations of attachment style). First, some researchers apply narrative reports, such as the Adult attachment Interview. During these interviews, participants discuss past experiences with attachment figures, primarily their parents. These interviews are intended to characterize the unconscious processes that individuals apply to regulate their emotions during these discussions (Jacobvitz, Curran, & Moller, 2002). Second, self-report measures assess the extent to which participants explicitly feel they seek close relationships and fear rejection.

Most self report measures, such as the Experiences in Close Relationships Revised scales (Fraley, Waller, & Brennan, 2000), assess two dimensions. The first dimension relates to anxious attachment, representing the extent to which individuals fear rejection (e.g., "I worry about being abandoned"). The second dimension relates to avoidant attachment, representing the extent to which individuals attempt to evade close relationships (e.g., "I prefer not to show a partner how I feel deep down").


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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 18/10/2008

Related objectives:
- Attachment theory - Constructive developmental theory - Socioemotional selectivity theory - Generational cohort theory -

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