Attachment Styles: Positive/Negative, Fearful, Secure & More

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  • 0:08 Adult Attachment Research
  • 0:53 Adult and Infant…
  • 2:10 Adult Attachment Styles
  • 6:15 Change in Attachment…
  • 6:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst

Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.

Attachment and relationships between two people are established at birth and continue through adulthood. The attachment between two adults is no less important than the attachment between a parent and infant. This lesson will explore the attachment styles of adults and similarities between infant-parent attachment styles.

Adult Attachment Research

Much time and research has been spent on exploring the attachment between a parent and an infant. Psychologists, such as Bowlby and Ainsworth, spent their careers researching attachment and the influencers of infant attachment. One of the most famous attachment experiments, 'The Strange Situation,' led to the discovery of four styles of parent-infant attachment: secure, resistant, avoidant, and disorganized.

Research on adult attachment has been guided by the research on infant-parent attachment. This lesson will highlight the similarities between infant-parent attachments and detail the four types of adult attachment styles.

Adult and Infant Attachment Similarities

In this lesson, adult attachment refers to types of romantic relationships held between adults. Interestingly enough, the parallels between adult attachment and infant-parent attachment are numerous. However, relationships and attachment take on different qualities as one progresses through adulthood.

Adult and infant-parent attachment share the following features:

  • Both feel safe when the other is physically nearby and seek to engage in close, bodily contact
  • Both feel insecure when the other is unavailable or not nearby
  • Both share new events and discoveries with each other

Given the similarities, researchers offered the following assumptions regarding attachment that apply to adult attachment or infant-parent attachment:

  • First, humans are biologically driven to form attachments with others, and these attachments are formed through learning experiences
  • Second, there are different attachment styles depending on the beliefs and expectations people have about their relationships
  • Third, differences in attachment styles can influence one's mental health and quality of relationships with others

Adult Attachment Styles

Researchers identified four types of attachment styles among adults: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. These styles parallel infant-attachment styles covered in depth in a previous lesson.

The first style of adult attachment is secure attachment. Adults categorized as having secure attachment feel good about themselves and others. They are not afraid of entering relationships or being abandoned if they do enter these types of relationships. This style of attachment typically occurs if the adult has had a history of positive interactions and relationships with partners. Securely attached adults often report greater satisfaction in their relationships, with flexibility and mutual understanding between the two partners.

This style of adult attachment corresponds to the secure infant-parent attachment style, in which the child feels free to explore surroundings when the parent is in the room. The child may become upset if the parent leaves but is easily comforted by the parent upon her return. These children are also friendly and outgoing with strangers in the presence of their parent.

The second style of adult attachment is anxious-preoccupied attachment. Adults with this style of attachment may have a positive view of others but feel like they can't be loved themselves. Adults with this style seek high levels of closeness and intimacy and become overly dependent on their partners. They may become 'clingy' and are fearful and anxious about their partner. They have anxiety that their partner has a less positive view about them and also blame themselves when things go wrong in the relationship.

The anxious-preoccupied adult attachment style corresponds to the resistant or anxious-ambivalent attachment style among infants. The child that is characterized with this type of attachment does not explore and play, even when his parent is in the room. The child becomes upset when the parent leaves, sometimes showing higher levels of separation anxiety than a securely attached child. The child may resist attempts by the parent to comfort and sooth and is also wary of strangers, even in the presence of the parent.

The third style of adult attachment is dismissive-avoidant attachment. Adults with a dismissing style of attachment possess a positive view of themselves, but a negative view of others and of close relationships. Adults in this style of attachment often feel they do not need relationships, self-guarding themselves from pain or abandonment that may occur should the relationship end. They find it hard to trust others and often keep people at a distance.

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