Adult Attachment running head: Adult Attachment

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RUNNING HEAD: Adult Attachment

Adult Attachment: An Overview

University of Evansville

Senior Thesis

Amie Brandt


This thesis is an overview of adult attachment: history, models, measures, and implications. Its place in evolutionary theory is discussed as well as its similarities with Bowlby’s theory of infant-caregiver attachment. Major models of adult attachment categories and ways in which they are measured are examined as well.
Mating is a subject that has received a lot of attention in social culture. Songs sing of “the one.” Fairy tales speak of true love, and romantic comedies top the movie charts. Men claim they cannot stay faithful because of some biological need to “spread their seed,” and women claim all of the “good ones” are either taken or gay. But what makes them “the good ones”? How does it come to pass that a man (or woman) is so completely wrong for one individual and the most perfect fit for another? It is the connection, the union, the bond. The tie that holds people together is attachment. It is in the first time a man says, “I love you.” It is in the first kiss of a new couple. It is the “forever” in wedding vows. There is a lasting bond that forms between two people. It is a bond to love and care for one another.

Many people have studied this attachment process in humans. From the beginnings with Bowlby, to infant-caregiver attachment with Ainsworth, on to full adult attachment with researchers like Hazan and Bartholomew, scientists have wondered what keeps two people together throughout their lives. Research has mainly centered on evolutionary theory and the infant-caregiver model, but in the 80’s and early 90’s there has been gaining interest in the prospect of adult attachment and its relationship to both evolution and childhood attachment.

Early research on human mating focused on evolutionary theory. The works of Charles Darwin were used to show that certain traits were evolutionarily productive, and as a species evolved, those traits would be inherited to produce better evolutionary fitness. Mating is one of those traits. A species must reproduce to survive, so humans have come up with a system of mating that is as effective as possible. The Sexual Strategies model is the primary viewpoint in evolutionary theory. It outlines the research on why humans are attracted to a certain type of individual. Males want an attractive, fertile, capable female who can birth and care for his children, and females want a strong, wealthy man who can take care of her and her young. This early research is certainly valid, but it fails to explain everything. There is clearly more to mate selection.

Other research has focused on the infant-caregiver model. The first bond a human encounters is the bond with their primary care giver, usually the mother. An infant creates a bond with its mother. He or she depends on her for warmth, love, support, and protection. If it is secure, this bond lasts for most of a child’s life. Even once the child is grown, he or she deeply loves this first caregiver. Most adults still call their mother for support, advice, or to share good news. There has been extensive research on this first bond, but could it be possible to apply this infant attachment theory on adults? This theory of attachment could help to explain how humans pick their mate and why they are monogamous even after child-rearing duties have passed.

Some researchers, such as Bowlby and Hazan, have proposed that attachment theory needs to be looked at closer with regards to human mating. Attachment theory may help to explain why humans mate for longer than the 4-5 years it takes to raise an infant. Or why females are sexually receptive even when not ovulating, and why fathers have so much interest in their children as they grow up. It may help to create a fuller picture of human mating.

Studies have shown correlations between attachment styles and many other facets of life such as martial satisfaction. It has been shown to affect health measures, quality of life, parenting, and sexual behaviors. Clearly this theory has effects outside of the infant-caregiver model, and insecure attachment may have ramifications in all facets of an adult’s life.

Attachment helps to explain why someone truly feels they have found “the one” when they fall in love. There is a bond so strong that it seems no one else could replace the love object. Evolutionary theory would say that any strong male could take any other’s place, but ask a woman who is in love if there is something special about her man. She will tell you no one else would do. They have a connection. That connection is attachment.

Evolutionary theory

There is a growing field of psychology known as evolutionary psychology. This developing field of study focuses on the work of Charles Darwin and uses his theories of natural selection to help explain human behavior. In the search for “human nature” psychologists have studied the elements that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. This includes our mating strategies. The most widely held theory on human mating in evolutionary psychology is known as the sexual strategies model outlined by Buss in his book The Evolution of Desire (1994). This early research hinges on the idea of parental investment. It states that the strategies of mate selection and attraction differ between the sexes. (Buss, 2001)

Every male has many sperm and creates more at an enormous rate every hour. He has the ability to impregnate as many receptive females as he has time for in a day if need be. Then he is finished with the burden of childbearing. He has the ability to leave. It may not be the best evolutionary choice, but his immediate cost of reproducing is a few sperm and a good time. Evolutionary theory would hold that a male would try to have sex with as many females as would allow to pass on his genes as much as possible. This plays a role in his partner selection; his primary goal is to find a woman who can birth a child successfully. A male looks for a woman who appears to be young, healthy and fertile. These traits are made evident by many visual cues such as a woman’s waist to hip ratio, healthy skin, and secondary sexual characteristics such as high cheekbones. The beauty industry is a great practical example for support in this theory. Women spend millions of dollars each year on makeup to enhance their features, on skin care to make them “radiant,” and on fad diets to reduce their waist size to make them appear more desirable. Women try to be the evolutionary ideal. Males who chose this type of sexual partner are more likely to be successful in passing on their genes because their mate is more capable of birthing young. This method of mate selection improves the evolutionary fitness of the pairing.

Females, on the other hand, have a very different consequence of sexual relations. If a woman has sex and is impregnated, she is required a very long commitment to this particular offspring, therefore there is a long period in which other, possibly better, opportunities for reproduction must be missed. The normal gestation period is around 40 weeks for a human and that does not include the time it takes to nurse and raise a child. That considered, the female breeding period is only about 35-40 years long. If she is not more discriminating than her male counterparts about her sexual partners she could risk wasting precious time on an offspring that does not contain the best genes possible. She has a considerably greater investment in one sexual encounter than a male. With this in mind, a female looks for a male who is strong and has resources to support her and her offspring for the long gestation period and care-giving to follow. This is shown clearly by men in America. Men love flashy material possessions. They attempt to get the highest paying job and flaunt their social status with fast cars and expensive clothing. The act of taking a girl to dinner on the first date could be an example of evolutionary theory at work. The male is trying to show the female that he could provide for her if she would sleep with him.

The differences are further shown with sexual jealousy. A male will show jealousy over sexual infidelity. The mere thought of sexual infidelity would put paternity into question. It would not be evolutionarily productive of a male to support another male’s offspring. A male wants to know that there is no chance he is wasting his resources on an offspring other than his own. A female on the other hand is more likely to get jealous over emotional infidelity. It may be a sign that the male has found another partner and may soon leave her and her offspring, taking his resources with him. This would leave her and her child without food or protection.

Although they use different methods, these two clearly defined methods of mate selections have the same goals in mind. The evolutionary theory states that there are three goals of an organism. The first is to live through childhood to reproductive age; the second is to find an acceptable mate and reproduce; and the third is to rear the offspring of that mating to sexual maturity. All three goals work toward the ultimate goal of furthering the species. Throughout this discussion all three will be addressed, but mate selection is the basis for the other two objectives. Without that drive, an infant would not have a need to grow to reproductive age, a mate would not need to be selected, and a child would not need to be raised. It is a human’s quest for continuation that drives them to live and to mate.

Evolutionary theory does not paint a clear picture for mate selection. If the theory was completely comprehensive, all males would leave after around four years (when the child is old enough to be cared for by others) and all females would fight over the one alpha male. This is not true in humans. Evolutionary theory does not explain why one man may be right for one woman but not for another. It fails to give reason for people who stay together and cannot have children. It does not explain why a father seems to be such an integral part of a child’s normal, healthy development. There is something else there. There is something that holds two people together, and contrary to what it may seem, works hand in hand with evolutionary theory.

The Infant Caregiver Model

Along human’s evolutionary tract an adaptation occurred that allowed babies to be born prematurely. It was an exceptionally advantageous adaptation. The smaller head of an immature brain was easier to pass through the birth canal. Prematurity made birth easier and allowed more babies and more mothers to survive the trauma of childbirth. This was evolutionarily productive, but it created many new problems for the parents because this premature infant needed drastically more care and protection to survive. If left on its own, the infant would die of starvation or be attacked by a predator. This meant that the new parents would have to look after and care for their new infant. A mechanism was needed to foster a bond between caregiver and child.

Bowlby (1988) created the theory of attachment. He proposed that there was an innate mechanism to foster an attachment bond to keep the caregiver with the child and to keep the child near the caregiver. When a baby is born, they have needs to be met. These needs include food, shelter, affection, and a secure base to go explore their world. They form a bond with a primary caregiver that will provide these needs. There are four basic features of this attachment bond: maintaining physical proximity, seeking comfort when needed, experiencing distress when separated from the caregiver, and seeing the caregiver as a secure base to explore their surrounding environment. (Hazan & Diamond, 2000) The baby looks to this person in times of anxiety or fear and, most importantly, shows obvious signs of distress when taken from this caregiver. The strongest evidence for this bond is this separation anxiety. A child will show signs of distress even if his or her basic needs are met (food, hygiene, etc.) by someone else. This clearly shows a bond is formed. The baby displays a need for more than just biological necessities.

Separation anxiety shows itself in three stages. The intensity and duration of each stage may vary, but a securely attached child will go through all three stages. The first stage is a time of protest. The child will cry and actively search for the missing caregiver. The child seems to find no comfort in anyone else’s attempts to calm him or her. Anyone who has visited a daycare has seen this stage. A mother hands her child to the daycare provider and the child cries, sometimes for hours, and waits by the door for their mother to return. Everything the child could ever need is at the daycare, snacks, people to take care of him or her, and even lots of toys to provide stimulus and play opportunities, but the child still shows an anxiety when they are taken from their primary caregiver. The second stage is classified as despair. When it seems the caregiver is not coming back soon, the child becomes depressed and lethargic. He or she does not want to play or engage in other activities that once were fun. They seem lost and heartbroken over their missing caregiver. And finally, when no hope is left for the return of the caregiver, the child will fall into the last stage, detachment. This is when the child gives up the first bond and is receptive to making new attachments with other caregivers.

Biology and The Bond

Many biological processes foster this attachment bond. The first intimate encounter a mother and child has, breast feeding, is an amazing agent for attachment on many levels. The infant sees that this person is going to provide for him or her. The mother feeds the baby. It is such a simple social structure, but it is one all infants must learn. The infant knows that this is the person they can go to when they have needs to be filled. Also, the act of sucking is biologically reinforced in an infant. The release of oxytocin ensures that the baby will continue this adaptive behavior. Oxytocin is thought to be a major factor in the reinforcement of attachment. The mother also receives an influx of oxytocin when she is lactating. It promotes that “warm, fuzzy feeling” by stimulating the reward system in the brain. It helps to strengthen the bond between the two.

Breast feeding also involves other attachment-producing behaviors. It allows for cuddling (the baby must be close to nurse), gazing, feeling the physical warmth the mother provides, and also involves touching areas that are generally considered private. This opportunity for these types of actions sets this relationship apart from other relationships the mother and child will encounter. It also provides a lot of ventral to ventral contact. The ventral side of a human is the most vulnerable. It provides exposure to all major vital organs. Opening up this vulnerable side to another fosters a trust and helps strengthen the bond.

Problems and The Bond

This bond does not always form securely. Ainsworth (1979) found three major categories of infant-caregiver attachments. Secure attachments are characterized by an infant who seeks out the caregiver in times of fear or anxiety, is soothed by the caregiver, and who explores their environment when the caregiver is nearby. This type of attachment is usually created by a caregiver that is warm, supportive, and consistently responds to the infants needs. This is the ideal. It is a healthy, strong bond that will support the growing child. If the bond is not made securely, the infant may become insecurely attached.

Ainsworth (1979) categorized insecures into two groups: insecure-ambivalent (later called anxious) and insecure-avoidant. Insecure-ambivalent attachments are characterized by a heightened need for attachment. They switch back and forth from a desperate seeking of the caregiver (clinging) to anger when the caregiver attempts to soothe them. This attachment is usually produced by an inconsistently responsive caregiver. The child does not know if the caregiver is going to provide them the attention they need, so they cling when they are receiving it and desperately cling when they are not. Insecure-avoidant children are the most independent, but that is not always a good thing. They do not seek the caregiver in times of anxiety and show little or no distress when the caregiver leaves. Their exploratory activities seem to be defensive or compulsive. (Zeifman & Hazan, 1997) This type of attachment is a result of a caregiver being distant and unresponsive to the child. This bond is not secure because the child learns that this person is not going to care for them.

This early attachment bond is very evolutionarily productive. It helps to meet two of the major evolutionary goals of our species. It helps the baby to survive to reproductive age by ensuring that they have someone to love and care for them (the caregiver), and it meets one of the goals of the parents: to rear their offspring to reproductive age. The parents have a strong enough bond to want to stay and care for the child instead deciding it would be too much work. Raising a child is not an easy task and without this bond, the parents may leave. It creates a maternal instinct ensuring the proper care of the new child. This bond is formed to promote evolutionary fitness. Belsky (1997) states that “patterns of attachment evolved as psychological and behavioral vehicles for ‘translating’ information about prevailing ecological conditions into a fitness-enhancing reproductive strategy.”

Adult Attachment

Current research supports the idea that attachment in the missing facet in evolutionary theory. Bartholomew (1990) suggest that this mechanism, inherent in humans in the form of infant-caregiver attachment, stays with a person for their entire life and later assists in the task of mate selection. It is evolutionarily productive to have an inborn mechanism for keeping parents together. The infant-caregiver bond keeps the mother near the child, but there must be something that keeps both of the parents around. The mother is needed for food; the father is needed for protection. It is an evolutionary adaptation that goes beyond current evolutionary theory.

The idea of adult attachment does not run contrary to evolutionary theory, instead it goes hand in hand, filling in the gaps that evolutionary theory alone leaves open. Why does a man stay with a woman after the baby is old enough to be on its own? Why is there such a prolonged period (sometimes years) of cuddling and flirting before the main event if all the mating ritual is supposed to do is make a baby? One would think the man would leave to pursue other prospects. The idea that all women want the “alpha male” does not make sense in our society. One man could be successful, handsome, and wealthy but not “right” for a woman. This seemingly perfect provider is not all that the woman is looking for. She wants someone she connects with, who will love her, not just provide. She wants that spark.


That spark is romantic infatuation. It can be looked at as the bait to the hook of attachment. Infatuation is the feeling of falling in love. It is the thought that no one else in this world was made for you but this person. It is the butterflies, the great desire to be near the object of affection, and the intense sadness when he or she is not around. It is not just sexual desire. It is more than that. It is what keeps the love struck up all night and makes them forget to eat. It is the first stage in building the lasting bond of real attachment.

Fisher, H., Brown, L.L., Aron, A., & Mashek, D. are currently conducting a study on the neuropsychology of this primary phase. They hypothesize that there is an influx of dopamine in the central nervous system when a person falls ‘in love.” Dopamine would produce the feelings of euphoria that a person feels when they are infatuated with their love object. The sleeplessness, reduced appetite, and the focused attention on the person could all be affects of this dopamine surge. Norepinephrine could also be involved in the uncanny ability of a love struck person to remember all of the seemingly unimportant things that their love object says or does. Norepinephrine is associated with imprinting and may lead to the blind following and focused attention of a love struck person. Serotonin may also lead to the heightened sense of importance of the love object. Not only does the love stuck get a pounding heart and light head every time the object of their affection comes near; they cannot seem to get them out of their head even when they are not around. This is known as intrusive thinking. It is an obsessive thought; the love object is constantly on their mind. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the current treatment for obsessive behaviors, therefore, serotonin may play a role in the intrusive thinking of love struck humans. It may also be due to certain amphetamines produced by our bodies that have hallucinogenic effect. (Hazan, C. & Diamond, L.M., 2000) This amphetamine could be the reason why a love object seems so perfect, that they could do no wrong. A lovesick individual has a tendency to overlook the bad traits in their loved one and only focus on the good.

The effects of infatuation have one purpose, to draw us in and keep us near until the real attachment can occur. The average length of time for infatuation to last is two years give or take six months. (Hazan, C. & Diamond, L.M., 2000) This is not surprising to anyone who has experienced a long-term relationship. Even in very close relationships most people would say that the “puppy love” stage ended after about a year and a half. The attachment formation should have taken place by now, and the infatuation is no longer needed.

During that year and a half or so the couple engages in activities typical of a new forming attachment. (Zeifman, D. & Hazan, C., 1997) The new couple cuddles, nuzzles, and kisses. They seem to be attached at the hip for awhile. They engage in much the same behavior as a mother and her newborn. They have prolonged ventral to ventral contact and touch areas otherwise known as private. All of these bond creating behaviors that a mother and child experience seem to resurface when a person falls in love. (For a complete overview of attachment behaviors, see Shaver, Hazan, & Bradshaw, 1988) This leads to the current view that this infatuation period is setting the stage for the same type of bond experienced in childhood: attachment.


As stated earlier, it would not be evolutionarily productive for a man to mate with a woman and then leave her. There would be no guarantee that his genes (child) would survive without him there to protect and provide for it. So humans adapted a mechanism to fit this problem. The already established ability to form a lasting and secure bond with the mother was adapted for the purpose of keeping the two parents together. The behaviors exhibited in the infatuation stage are all devices for fostering the warmth and trust that is associated with an attachment bond. These types of behaviors are not typically displayed in any other social context. Girls may kiss their friends on the cheeks to say good bye, but it is unlikely that they will cuddle frequently. It is very unlikely that they will have private contact, but in a new romantic relationship these behaviors occur.

Another similarity between the bond formation in early childhood and the formation of a romantic bond is the chemical oxytocin. As was stated earlier, oxytocin is released when breast-feeding and leads to the warm, fuzzy feeling. It is sometimes referred to as the bonding chemical because of its role in the attachment bonds. This same chemical works hand in hand with vasopressin to promote romantic bonds. A female releases oxytocin when she has an orgasm. By contrast a male releases vasopressin. These chemicals combined are thought to lead to the after play of sex. There is an increase of physical contact: cuddling, kissing, and holding. There is an increase in blood flow and a flush to the face: a warm fuzzy feeling. And there is euphoria to help strengthen the push that sex is a good thing.

These chemicals tell a person’s body that what they are doing is good, but they also reinforce that this person is good. Who could deny a person that makes them feel that way? The fact that sex is a very intimate act further pushes the idea that not everyone could produce this feeling. A woman could not go to the store and buy the feeling she experiences after sex. It is a unique feeling given to her by the man she is involved with. This exclusivity helps to reinforce the forming bond, just as it did the infant-caregiver bond.

This chemical reaction may help to foster a later, stronger attachment as well. Through classical conditioning, these early emotional fluxes could promote good feelings later in the relationship. (Hazan, C. & Diamond, L.M., 2000) These chemical floods are paired with this new special person. The chemical overflow is reinforcing to the body. Later the person sees the object of their affection and it triggers the good feelings. These chemicals condition humans so that even once the infatuation stage is passed the connection between this person and reinforcement remains in tact.

The absence of external signs of estrus show that sex is not only for reproductive purposes. Women are responsive at all times, not only during ovulation. Sex when a female is not receptive seems to be a waste of time unless it held another purpose. That purpose is bond formation. The face-to-face contact possible by humans is another way to foster the bond. Just as a mother and child have ventral-to-ventral contact, so do lovers.

Other similarities exist that lead to the conclusion that the bond formation mechanism exists not only in childhood development, but also in romantic relationships. (Shaver & Hazan, 1988,1994) A child chooses an attachment figure based on many features: the proximity of the caregiver, the seeming intelligence of the caregiver, and the emotional availability of the caregiver. The child will attach to the person who takes care of them. If a mother is not present (proximity), competent (intelligence), and kind (emotionally available) the child will seek out a caregiver who is. (Zeifman, D. & Hazan, C., 1997)

The same is true for romantic relationships. While physical attractiveness was more important to males, and resources and money were more important to females, neither was the top choice for either sex. The top choices were kind/understanding and intelligent. (Buss, D.M., 1994) Proximity is also a major factor in the selection of a mate. Humans generally meet their mate in their hometown. It just makes sense that to develop a relationship the two people must be near one another. This proximity also lends to the same interests. It is more likely for two people to meet if they are involved in the same things: clubs, organizations, go to the same bars, etc. Most people are involved with people similar to themselves. (Zeifman, D. & Hazan, C., 1997) It seems that adults choose their mates based on the same criteria that babies chose their caregivers.

The most striking evidence for a connection between the infant-caregiver bond and a romantic bond is the presence of separation anxiety. “It is important to note that the protest-despair-detachment sequence is observed almost exclusively in two social relational contexts: infant-caregiver relationships and adult pair bonds.” (Hazan, C. & Diamond, L.M., 2000) The initial reaction to loss of a partner is panic or anxiety. There is a desperate seeking of the lost partner much like the seeking for the caregiver done by the infant. After the person realizes that their lost partner is not coming back, they fall into depression and assume the lethargy of an infant. The third stage is detachment when the person resumes normal living and may even look for another attachment bond. (Zeifman, D. & Hazan, C., 1997) This similarity is evidence of the same mechanism at work. Both types of relationships follow the same pattern of anxiety and loss, and this loss is exclusive to these types of relationships.

These behaviors lead one to believe that this attachment mechanism is indeed at work once again in a person’s life. But is it the same bond? Bowlby’s original theory stated that early relationships (infant-caregiver) provide working models for later relationships and that adult attachment relationships should mimic this bond. Studies have shown that adult attachment can change over time. Kirkpatrick and Hazan (1994) found that although attachment styles, like trait personality characteristics, are fairly consistent over time, they can change with important changes in relationships. A particularly caring and responsive partner could turn an anxious/ambivalent into a securely attached relationship partner. On the other hand, a securely attached person could be badly burned and become avoidant. People in relationships will tend to view themselves and their partners as more secure than if they were not in a relationship. (Latty-Mann & Davis, 1996)

Hazan and Zeifman (1994) present more evidence. They performed two studies to assess whether the attachment bond shifts from a caregiver to a significant other. They found that as a child grows older the roles of an attachment bond do shift in responsibility from parents to peers. As a relationship progresses, an individual gives up proximity seeking, safe haven, separation protest, and finally a secure base. All of these attributes are transferred to the new partner slowly and systematically in that order. The mechanism is still there; it has just been repositioned.

Models of Adult Attachment

It is clear that a romantic relationship is a similar bond to the infant-caregiver model. They involve the same bond forming behaviors, the same bond enforcing chemicals, and the same bond maintaining loss patterns. The bond a child makes with its mother is a framework for the way he or she will make bonds later in life. If the child does not receive enough affection, he or she may grow up avoidant of affection, or he or she may be insecure-ambivalent and be clingy and fearful of rejection. Hopefully the child made a secure bond with a loving, supportive caregiver and will grow up to embrace and appreciate a romantic relationship.

Many models of adult attachment have been proposed. Hazan and Shaver proposed a three-category model of adult attachment stemming from Ainsworth’s original three models for infant attachment. The first type corresponds with Ainsworth’s secure prototype. They are happy in close relationships. They are not jealous or secretive. They seem to be open about their feelings. The secure type is an independent person who can stand on their own two feet, but are comfortable seeking comfort and support when needed. The avoidant model corresponds with insecure-avoidant attachment in childhood attachment models. They avoid intimate contact. If they do engage in close relationships, they are distant and cold. They do not show their feelings and are very uncomfortable when that exchange is expected. They are fiercely independent and are sometimes “loners,” choosing loneliness over intimacy. The third style, anxious, is a lot like Ainsworth’s insecure-ambivalent. These people are the ones who cling to a lover. They are obsessive and emotional. They are constantly fearful of rejection and worry about their significant others feelings about them and the relationship. They are unstable in close relationships, much like the clinging child. These models proposed by Hazan and Shaver follow previously stated styles of attachment, but others have branched out further.

Bartholomew (1991) went further to describe a four-category model. She based her classifications on both the way the subject feels about themselves and the way he or she feels about others. Previous research focused more on the subjects internal working models of a close relationship. This new perspective took the theory to a more objective level. She held to the original models of secure and insecure-ambivalent, but they separated the insecure-avoidant into two categories.

Secure people, in Bartholomew’s theory have a sense of self worth and also believe in others self worth. They have a positive view of themselves and others. Their memories of childhood are happy with loving supporting parents. They value attachment relationships and are comfortable around people. They have a strong liking for others and are honest and trusting in their relationships. They are characterized in this theory by this positive-positive view.

The second prototype is the preoccupied type. This is much like the anxious/ambivalent of Bowlby and Hazan and Shaver. These people have memories of childhood and often become emotional when talking about them. Their past often includes divorce or some other major life change that occurred early. They are clingy and starved for affection. They value close relationships and often are disappointed when those close to them do not delve in with their same intensity. They see them as unreliable and unavailable, (Stein, H.; Jacobs, N.J.; Ferguson, K.S.; Allen, J.G. & Fonagy, P., 1998) yet they rely on them for their self-esteem. This negative self-negative others view characterizes them.

Dismissing types (the first of the two branches of the type previously called insecure-avoidant) avoid relationships because of emotional detachment. They do not value attachment relationships and instead overly emphasize the importance of autonomy and achievement. They claim to not remember childhood and are quick to rationalize the acts of their detached or overachieving parents. They are uncomfortable with dependency and commitment and have few, if any, close friendships. They are categorized by their positive view of themselves and a negative view of others.

The second of the two-branched types of the insecure-avoidant model Bartholomew termed the fearful type. These people avoid relationships because they are fearful of being rejected. They do not risk the hurt that intimacy could bring. It is not that they do not want intimacy like the dismissing individuals, they are scared. Their parents may have been abusive and distant, but these individuals value attachment relationships. They have a negative view of themselves and feel they are unworthy of someone’s love, leading to their fear they will never find someone to love them. They are self-blaming pleasers in a close relationship. They are determined by their negative self-negative others outlook.

Measures of Adult Attachment

These are the two major theories of adult attachment classifications. Others have made small adaptations to Hazan and Shaver’s or Bartholomew’s basic models, but no one has made any major changes in the basic framework. It is increasingly clear that adult attachment can be categorized much like infant-caregiver attachment with similar prototypes and behaviors. In spite of these similarities it is looked at in a slightly different light and measured in many different ways. Ainsworth (1979) used the Strange Situation to test a child’s attachment patterns. The child was put in a room he or she had never seen with people he or she did not know without the caregiver, thus creating a “strange situation.” The researchers then observed the behavior of the child to classify them into one of the types of attachment. Adults are a little more complicated. Questionnaires and interviews are the primary ways of studying adult attachment. They differ in the extent of depth they cover and where they put their focus, either in the past or the present state of relationships. The top two facets of psychology that look at attachment are the infant-caregiver tradition and the social cognition tradition. Each subsection looks at why and how attachment is used in romantic relationships.

Helen Stein and Noel J. Jacobs (1998) give a comprehensive and clear review of the measures of adult attachment. The first to be discussed is the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI). It follows the infant-caregiver tradition originally developed by Bowlby. It was developed by George, Kaplan & Main in 1996. It is a projective, structured, semi-clinical interview used to assess the Strange Situation in adulthood. The interview involves questions about their childhood, relationships with primary caregivers, and separation and loss. The interview time can vary from 25 minutes to 2 ½ hours with an additional 14 hours to transcribe and 4-10 hours per protocol to score. Scoring is done by trained raters using an encoded form of the interview.

The classifications derived from ratings on 17 subscales. The first three classifications are convergent with Ainsworth’s original three models: Secure (called Secure/Free/Autonomous), Avoidant (Dismissing of Attachment) and Anxious/Ambivalent (Preoccupied/Entangled). Main and colleagues also added two new types: Unresolved and Cannot Classify. Unresolved individuals seem distracted and disorganized. This may be caused by unresolved issues such as abuse or neglect in childhood. Cannot Classify individuals are just that, unclassifiable. They do not fit into any category and usually seem wholly incoherent.

This type of measure agrees with Bowlby’s original hypothesis that the infant-caregiver bond is an internal working model for later life relationships. The AAI focuses on an adult’s experience in childhood and the way that relationship affects subsequent relationships in his or her life. It puts little to no emphasis on other relationships that the individual has been involved in or how their bonding patterns may have changed. It is a categorical rather than a dimensional scale and does not allow for the possibility of an individual belonging to more than one attachment style.

Another downfall of the AAI is the length of time it takes to administer, transcribe and rate. It does not have great research utility. Raters must be trained in a two training program and pass a reliability trial to administer the interview. Although this extreme amount of time and energy does ensure that the interview is given properly, and, as a result, the AAI rates very high in psychometric values such as reliability and validity.

Others have attempted to reevaluate the AAI and revise it to make it more complete. George and West (2001) adapted the AAI and created the Adult Attachment Projective. It is a projective test based on the comments made by participants to seven attachment related drawings, much like the Thematic Apperception Test for personality. The attachment styles mirror the AAI.

The second category of measures discussed stem from the social cognition tradition of psychology. A major difference between the AAI and the tests that come from the social tradition is that the social measures see attachment as an interpersonal process. The social psychologists look at attachment based on current relationships, and see attachment as a dynamic situation. It is thought that the focus of attachment shifts from a primary caregiver to a romantic partner later in life, therefore a person’s working model for relationships changes as well. Four major scales have been developed in this tradition.

Hazan and Shaver developed the first social measure. It is a forced-choice scale where participants are asked to rate themselves as one of the attachment styles. A later revision added a Likert scale to allow for the possibility of more than one style being present in any individual. It is a quick and easy test to administer and gives insight into a categorical nature of attachment.

The second social measure is an adaptation of Hazan and Shaver’s questionnaire. Simpson used their questionnaire and created 13 statements about how the participant feels about romantic relationships in general. It uses a dimensional construct that rates the participant on two scales: avoidant and anxious. This construct treats attachment as being on a continuum and may give a clearer view of attachment style. A dimensional rather than categorical approach also allows for easier comparison between individuals.

Hazan and Shaver and Simpson both used Ainsworth et. al.’s (1978) original three infant attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious/ambivalent. A secure individual has trust and confidence in his or her partner. There is rarely jealousy in a secure relationship. Avoidant participants are reluctant to trust someone and find the intimacy of a close relationship threatening. Anxious/ambivalents are predisposed to be lonely and jealous. They obsess over a partner’s availability and are never happy with the amount of closeness in a relationship.

Collins and Read also took Hazan and Shaver’s questionnaire and adapted it to fit their ideas about attachment. The Revised Adult Attachment Scale is an 18-item scale that measures participants on three dimensions: Close (how comfortable they are with closeness), Depend (how much they can depend on others for support), and Anxiety (fear of being abandoned or lonely). These three constructs allow for a dimensionally analysis of styles, but Collins and Read also developed “clusters” that allow for a categorical approach. The first is Secure, which has high scores on Close and Depend and lower scores on Anxiety. The other clusters include Anxious/ambivalent (high on Anxiety; moderate on Close and Depend) and Avoidant (low scores on all three categories). They also distinguished between an Anxious-secure and an Anxious-avoidant type.

The most complete and widely used measures stemming from the social cognition theories are Bartholomew’s questions and interviews. These measures hinge on the theory that attachment style is based on a person’s expectations of others providing them with the love and support they deserve. This is easily seen in the descriptions of Bartholomew and Horowitz’s (1990) attachment styles described earlier. The styles are distinguished by the positive or negative view of the person’s self and others.

From this basis Bartholomew derived four scales: two questionnaires and two interviews. The two questionnaires use Likert scales to allow the participant to rate themselves with regard to each prototype on how they normally feel in a close relationship. Both questionnaires yield dimensional results, due to the Likert scales, and categorical results that coincide with Bartholomew and Horowitz’s four attachment styles. The Relationship Scales Questionnaire also allows the rater to give scores on Collins and Read’s three constructs.

The two interviews are distinguished by the focus of attachment. The first type is the Family Attachment Interview. It is a semi-structured interview rated by two trained raters. It is quite like the AAI in that the questions center on memories of childhood. The interview includes subscales such as love, rejection, anger, idealization, and role reversal. Ratings are based on feelings about memories growing up. Content plays a larger role than coherence. If the participant avoids the issue of childhood it does not have as large an effect on their outcome as it does with the AAI. The second interview is titled the Peer Attachment Interview. This measure focuses on close friendships and romantic relationships. The structure and scoring is much like the Family Attachment Interview. Questions involve trust, intimacy, and level of comfort with levels of support among others.

Bartholomew’s scales are very comprehensive. Each of the tests measures a different facet of attachment. This yields a more complete picture of a person’s style. Using all of these methods can be confusing though, and the possibility that a person will end up with four distinct attachment styles is somewhat overwhelming.

All of these scales, whether they come from Bowlby’s tradition or social cognition, attempt to provide a picture of attachment that is complete and accurate, but that is not always the case. Stein, Koontz, Fonagy, Allen, Fultz, Brethour, Allen & Evans (2002) did not find a high concordance rate among several measures of adult attachment. They attribute this to the wording in which the questions are asked and the focus of the attachment. “Asking participant to report feelings about ‘close relationships’ or ‘relationships in general’ may force them to alter or average their expectations or responses in more socially acceptable ways.” (Stein, et. al., 2002) They give another cause for the variance: not everyone fits perfectly into one prototype or another. With the exception of the interviews, most measures of adult attachment are forced answer whether it be in the form of a multiple choice question or choosing the attachment style that best suits.
Effects of Attachment Style

Just as infant attachment style seems to affect adult relationships, adult attachment style has implications in other facets of a person’s life. It has been shown to effect marital satisfaction, loneliness, sexual behavior, and health, among other things.

Marital Satisfaction

One of the most researched and documented effects of attachment style is marital satisfaction. (Fricker & Moore, 2002; Meyers & Landsberger, 2002; Kirkpatrick & Hazan, 1994; Pistole & Clark, 1995) Securely attached individuals seem to be the most satisfied in their marriages. This is most likely due to a securely attached individual’s inclination to support and care for their significant others and their perception that their partner will due the same. Avoidant and Anxious/Ambivalent fall in satisfaction the farther from secure their attachments are.

This connection is strengthened by a study done by Meyers and Landsberger (2002). They studied the moderating effects of psychological distress and social support on attachment style and marital satisfaction. They found that the presence of psychological distress completely erased any correlation between secure attachment style and satisfaction. Social support may play a major role in the dissatisfaction of the two insecure types and may lead to the feelings of isolation of avoidant individuals.

Kirkpatrick and Hazan (1994) found that secure relationships are the most stable, followed by anxious/ambivalents, and then avoidant. The stability of anxious/ambivalents’ relationships should not be confused with satisfaction. They tend to have stable, yet unhappy, relationships because of their clingy nature. Secure attachment’s satisfaction did not always correlate to stability either. As discussed earlier, attachment style has been shown to change, and they found that relationship satisfaction is more closely related to current attachment style than to previous notions of attachment.

Some have found data that runs contrary to this secure-stable view. Cohn and Silver (1992) found that there was no correlation between attachment style and marital satisfaction. They found that the man’s view of the relationship is what mediated the satisfaction levels. This is a manifestation of attachment as well. The male’s attachment to his wife (levels of trust and kindness) are what would make the relationship work and increase levels of satisfaction. So although the numbers do not show a significant correlation, other research and theories create some doubt in their testing methods.

Sexual Behavior

Another area where attachment style seems to have effect is sexual behavior. This makes sense seeing as sex is a social act, involving a relationship of some kind between two people. If a person has trouble with intimacy and closeness, sex will carry issues with it. Bogaert and Sadava (2002) found that securely attached individuals were more likely to rate themselves as attractive and less likely to masturbate (possibly pointing to a healthier sex life). Anxiously attached people were more likely to rate themselves as less attractive, scored higher on erotophilia (positive sexual affect, more inclined to have sex), and were more likely to experience sex at a young age or with many partners and be unfaithful. The unstable early attachment seems to be mirrored in the unstable adult relationships.

Smallbone and Dadds (2001) found that anxiously attached people are more likely to engage in coercive sexual behavior. They hypothesize that this could be due to a tendency toward aggression and antisocial behavior associated with insecure attachments.

It is clear that secure individuals have healthier, happier sex lives, and the working models created in insecure individuals can have adverse effect on intimate acts. It is difficult to deal with the closeness sex brings to a relationship if a person is not comfortable in that relationship to start.

Health Related Effects

Meyers and Vetere (2002) conducted two studies on attachment style and its effects on health. The first study conducted dealt with stress. They used the Coping Resources Inventory to assess which attachment style had the most resources for dealing with stress in their lives. They found that securely attached people have many more internal resources for coping. Avoidant was second, followed by Anxious. Meyers (1998) also found that secure individuals have higher self-esteem and personal competence, and they rely less on “maladaptive, self-blaming defense techniques” than the avoidant or anxious individuals. These internal resources could lead to lower stress levels.

The second study focused on a broader range of health issues including psychological health. Using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) to assess the subjects’ mental health and a scale of general health questions (coughing, headaches, etc.), they found a significant difference among the attachment styles. Secure individuals have lower scores on the GHQ-12, and anxious individuals have higher. Avoidant individuals were not significant. They found no significant values for the physical health-related questionnaire. This could be an effect of the sample. It is obvious that less stress-coping mechanisms and higher levels of mental distress must have physical effects, whether it is headaches or stomach ulcers. Stress has physiological symptoms. Attachment style must effect physical health indirectly.

Most studies focus on the effects of attachment style on different aspects of life. There has been little to no research done on the effects of life events on attachment style. Attachment style has been shown to change with relationship status, but what about other life stressors? Could events like parental divorce, death, or moving away affect attachment bonds? These circumstances could change the way a person thinks or feels about themselves or others. This should also affect the level of trust and intimacy a person is comfortable with in a relationship. Attachments may suffer or strengthen. More research needs to be done to clarify what effects, if any, sudden stressful events can have on attachment.


Adult attachment stems from a long and somewhat complicated background. It has widespread roots in evolutionary theory and in childhood. Research began with Bowlby’s theory of infant-caregiver attachment and has branched into how humans choose mates and stay together for a lifetime. This type of bond is exclusive to the close relationships experienced in mothers and children and in future romantic pairings.

Adult attachment is a topic that deserves more attention in research. Little is known about its effects and there is confusion over how to assess a person’s style (dimensional, categorical, past, present, etc.) Knowledge in this subject may help people to understand how pair bonds are formed and, perhaps more importantly, maintained. Understanding could have implications in family therapy, marriage counseling, and perhaps lowering the divorce rate. It could shed some light on a subject that affects everyone at some point in life.

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