Measurement and Investigation of Adult Attachment Phenomena
Phillip Shaver Principal Investigator
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Attachment theory, formulated by John Bowlby in an influential three-volume study, currently provides one of the best explanations of emotional bonding between young children and their parents. It also explains what happens when emotional bonds are disrupted or severed (for example, through separation or death). Bowlby intended the theory to apply, in his words, "from the cradle to the grave" (that is, to serve as a lifespan theory of attachments), but until recently few researchers had attempted to study adult love from an attachment-theoretical perspective. In several exploratory studies considerable support has been obtained for predictions derived from the theory--predictions concerning the way love is experienced by people with different attachment styles (secure, avoidant, anxious/ambivalent), the differential divorce rates of people with different attachment histories, the proneness of adults with insecure attachment styles to chronic loneliness, and so on. This research will extend the line of work in several ways: (1) improving preliminary measures of adult attachment style, attachment history, and attachment-related phenomena (such as emotional experiences at work, patterns of sexual motivation and sexual problems, and ability to offer empathic, sensitive care to a relationship partner); (2) examining connections between attachment style, attachment history, and behavioral assessments of relationship quality (such as marital conflict and communication coded from laboratory videotapes); (3) examining longitudinally the early phases of adult love relationships to see how attachment variables influence the course of relationship development (including break-up, in cases where that occurs); and (4) probing, through intensive interviews, the life histories (particularly the relationship histories) of people whose attachment styles have changed over time from insecure to secure. The research should deepen the theoretical foundation of the emerging close relationship field, tying it to existing work in ethology and developmental psychology. It should help integrate important social psychological findings.