Attachment Theory and Adult Relationships

Attachment theory as originally conceptualized by John Bowlby emphasized the relationship between parent and child. Shice the 1980s, however, researchers have begun to systematically examine attachment relationships hi adults, especially in romantic relationships.

A classic study of adult attachment was conducted by Cindy Hazan and Phil Shaver (1987), who predicted that different types of early attachment styles would distinguish the kind duration, and stability of adult love relationships. More specifically, these investigators expected that people who had secure early attachments with then caregivers would experience more trust, closeness, and positive emotions in their adult love relationships than would people in either of the two insecure groups. Likewise, they predicted that avoidant adults would fear closeness and lack trust, whereas anxious-ambivalent adults would be preoccupied with and obsessed by their relationships. Ushig college students and other adults, Hazan and Shaver found support for each of these predictions. Securely attached adults did experience more trust and closeness in their love relationships than did avoidant or anxious-ambivalent adults. Moreover, the researchers found that securely attached adults were more likely than insecure adults to believe that romantic love can be long lasting. In addition, securely attached adults were less cynical about love hi general, had longer lasting relationships, and were less likely to divorce than either avoidant or anxious-ambivalent adults.

Other investigations have generally supported the research by Hazan and Shaver. For example, Thomas Morrison, Beth Goodlin-Jones, and Anthony Urquiza

(1997) found that college students with secure relationships had less hostility and greater independence than did students with avoidant or ambivalent relationships. More specifically, participants who categorized their current or most mthnate relationship as avoidant described both themselves and then partner as relating through a pattern of attack and protest. Ambivalent students also described themselves as attacking, but did not perceive their partners hi this maimer. In summary, adults who feel secure and comfortable hi then intimate relationships are more trusting and independent than are adults who see their relationship as either avoidant or ambivalent.

More recently, some research has begun to examine whether there is any connection between adult attachment style and parent-child attachment styles. Robin Edelstein and colleagues (2004) examined how adult attachment style predicts their level of support and caregivhig toward their child while the child is in a state of stress (receiving an inoculation). Specifically, they predicted that avoidant parents would be less responsive and supportive of then child hi a state of stress. They also predicted that children of avoidant parents would experience more distress during the inoculation than would children of non-avoidant parents.

Participants were 39 parent-child dyads (mostly mother-child dyads). The children ranged hi age from 3 to 7, with an average age of 5.2 years. Adult attachment styles were measured by the Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ) (Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994), which measured two attachment styles—avoidant and anxious. The researchers videotaped children's reactions to the stress of inoculation. Tapes were coded by raters blind to how much stress the child exhibited during the inoculation and how responsive the parents were to their child's distress.

As predicted Edelstein and colleagues reported a significant interaction between parental avoidance, child distress, and parental responsiveness. More specifically, high avoidant parents were most responsive to children who were least distressed and least responsive to children who were most distressed. The opposite pattern was found for parents low in avoidance: That is, they were most responsive to highly distressed children and least responsive to less distressed children. In addition, children of avoidant parents were more distressed by the procedure than those whose parents were not avoidant. The authors reasoned that this finding was consistent with the view that avoidant people are more uncomfortable with the distress of others, and that avoidant people tend to dismiss the attachment needs of others and preferring to provide "care at a distance."

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