Adult Attachment Theory
by Saul McLeod published 2012
Unlike infants, adolescents and adults can tolerate separations from their primary caregiver and do not always need to be in close proximity to the attachment figure. However, they still need to feel secure, and the availability of the attachment figure is crucial to this.
It would be a mistake to assume that attachment diminishes during adolescence. Instead, in some cases the independent behavior of the adolescent is the direct results of feeling secure due to their belief in the availability of the attachment figure via their internal working model developed during infancy (Bretherton, & Munholland, 1999). Availability simply means that the attachment figure is aware of, and responsive to, the adolescents needs. A secure attachment helps the adolescent develop autonomy and provides them with a ‘safe base’ with which to explore their social world. If an adolescent feels secure in the availability of their attachment figure they should become more independent and self-reliant (Bretherton and Munholland, 1999).
Measuring attachment quality in adolescents and adults would not be valid using the strange situation (Ainsworth, & Bell, 1970). During the transitional period from childhood to adolescence attachment behavior changes from external observable interactions to internal cognitive representations and beliefs.
During the 1980s researchers later began to understand the importance of adult attachments and developed methodology to investigate adolescent attachment to peers (romantic and friends) in addition to parents. Two main paradigms of adult attachment measures have developed: a narrative approach and self report measures.
Measurements of Adult Attachment
Narrative measurements of adult attachment are based on the premise that “mental processes vary as distinctly as do behavioral processes” (Main et. al., 1985, p. 78), and that behavioral processes are reflected in language.
Narrative measures are used to measure the attachment quality in older children, adolescents and adults in terms of a continuum of attachment security. Different methods will be used for each age group with the aim of tapping into the individual’s internal working model (Stevenson-Hinde and Verschueren, 2002). With younger children this may involve using dolls to enact attachment scenarios. An appropriate narrative method for adolescents would involve the Separation Anxiety Test, whereby an adolescent is shown a series of photographs showing separation experiences. The adolescent is asked to respond how they would feel and act in that particular situation (Main et al., 1985). A typical response from a securely attached adolescent would be to recognize that anxiety would be experienced due to separation, but to propose suitable coping strategies. In contrast, an insecurely attached adolescent usually either denies the existence of anxiety or suggests inappropriate coping strategies.
The Adult Attachment Interview (George, Kaplan, & Main, 1984) is a narrative measure of the security of adult relationships with parents and peers. The adult is interviewed regarding general experiences of their parents and their parental experiences when the attachment behavioral system is activated (times of distress, separation, illness).
The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (Armsden and Greenberg, 1987) is a self-report method measuring the attachment security of adults with parents and close friends. The authors claim that in adulthood, “the ‘internal working model’ of attachment figures may be tapped by assessing (1) the positive affective/cognitive experiences of trust in the accessibility and responsiveness of attachment figures, and (2) the negative affective/cognitive experiences of anger and/or hopelessness resulting from unresponsiveness or inconsistently responsive attachment figures” (p. 431). The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment is not designed to differentiate between the different attachment classifications outlined by Ainsworth and her colleagues (1978), but scores attachment security on a continuum.
These new inventory and interview methodologies have helped illuminate how attachment styles mediate a range of behaviors in adolescence and adulthood. For example, researchers began to explore how adult attachment security affected a range of social, emotional and cognitive, and psychopathological variables, such as self-esteem and depression (e.g. Sroufe 1983).
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How to cite this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2009). . Retrieved from
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