The Moderating Effects of Attachment Style on Students' Experience of a Transition to University Group Facilitation Program

Article excerpt

This study investigated how attachment style predicted first-year students' responses to a transition to university group facilitation program. Participants (N = 148) at three universities were randomly assigned to a control or facilitation group. Each group consisted of on average six first-year students and two facilitators who met weekly for nine weeks at the beginning of the first semester to discuss issues relevant to the transition to university. Attachment styles (preoccupied, secure, dismissing, and fearful), feelings toward group experiences, and adjustment were assessed by questionnaire at the end of the program in November and again in March. Results indicated that, as hypothesised, dismissing style scores were generally negatively correlated with student attendance and feelings toward the group. Secure style ratings tended to be positively correlated with reports of group feelings. Adjustment measures collected in March indicated a potential buffering effect of the facilitation program for the preoccupied students in that the preoccupied students in the control group indicated more depression and loneliness, plus poorer adjustment to university, than the preoccupied students in the intervention groups. However, all other styles, including the dismissing style, did not show differences between intervention and control groups on subsequent adjustment.

Keywords: attachment style, first-year students, transition to university or college, group experiences, school adjustment

The present study investigates the relationship between firstyear students' participation in a social support group facilitation program and their subsequent adjustment to university as a function of their general attachment style. In adulthood, attachment styles represent how people think about their relationships with others (Bowlby, 1988). Two important research findings about attachment style inform the current study. First, these styles have been linked to students' experience of the transition to university, with students having a secure attachment style generally doing better than those showing an insecure attachment (e.g., Rice, Fitzgerald, Whaley, & Gibbs, 1995). Second, attachment styles also have been shown to moderate peoples' reactions to group settings (Rom & Mikulincer, 2003). More specifically, facilitation groups designed to help students adjust to the new experiences of university have generally been shown to be effective in relieving some of the distress engendered during this transition (e.g., Oppenheimer, 1984; Pancer et al., 2007; Pratt et al., 2000). Taken together, these findings suggest that the experiences of first-year university students participating in facilitation groups may be influenced by attachment style. To explore this more fully, the present study investigates how attachment style moderates student reactions to such group programs.

The Transition to University

Attending university is a major life transition of emerging adulthood, characterized by change and challenge for most incoming students. This transition involves dramatic changes in first-year students' lives: attending larger and more challenging classes, developing new social relationships, and, for some, leaving home, moving into an apartment or dormitory with unfamiliar people and without adult supervision (Shaver, Furman, & Burhmester, 1985). During the transition, students also must modify their previous routines in order to meet the new demands of university life. Although typically considered a positive and exciting time, the transition to university has been found to be quite challenging for some students (Birnie-Lefcovitch, 1998; Fisher & Hood, 1987; Wintre & Yaffe, 2000). Some incoming undergraduate students are at risk of increased levels of depression and stress because of the transition (Wintre & Yaffe, 2000). Cutrona (1982) found that during the transition to university, states of loneliness dramatically increased in first-year students. …