Implications of individual attachment styles for adult empathy and other emotional responses
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe present study assessed the relationship between one's attachment style and one's chronic (trait-based) and acute (state-based) emotional responses to others, focusing on one's level of empathic concern. The individual attachment styles of subjects were assessed using the Brennan, Clark and Shaver (1998) Experiences in Close Relationships Scale. In the first part of the project, participants' emotional responses were assessed when confronted with another individual in need in an experiment based on the Batson et al. (1988) "Katie Banks" paradigm. "Katie Banks" is a fictitious student who needs help raising money to assist in taking care of her orphaned siblings. This experimental paradigm was used to measure participants' affective responses to learning of her plight. The second part of the project involved an assessment of the trait of empathy as related to individuals' attachment styles. The participants completed the Davis (1996) Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) to assess four sub-measures of empathy. Potential links between these measures and attachment style were explored. The primary hypotheses were that individuals with attachment styles characterized by a tendency to focus on others would be more able to express other-focused emotional responses to another in need (and in general) than those individuals who tend to focus on themselves and generally avoid relationships. In addition, those individuals who typify attachment styles that tend to become anxious within relationships were predicted to express more distressing emotional responses than those who represent attachment styles with less anxiety within relationships. Whereas some of the results from the trait assessment of empathy supported these hypotheses, results of the state-based affective responses did not. With regard to trait-based measures, securely attached individuals tended to take the perspective of others more than less securely attached individuals, and secure individuals expressed significantly less distress. In addition, preoccupied individuals (and high anxiety individuals in general) exhibited significantly more distress. Finally, those with low avoidance attachment styles responded significantly higher on the fantasy scale. With regard to the state-based measures, contrary to predictions, there were no differences among the attachment styles in the type of affective responses to the laboratory need situation.
Degree ProgramGraduate College