Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Attachment Style and Decoding of Nonverbal Cues

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Attachment Style and Decoding of Nonverbal Cues

Article excerpt

The present study examined individual differences in adult attachment style and nonverbal decoding accuracy. It was predicted that secure and preoccupied participants (i.e., those with a positive view of others) would demonstrate more nonverbal accuracy than would those with a negative view of others (i.e., dismissing and fearful participants). Participants were 59 single, female college students with a mean age of 19.20 years. Attachment styles were categorized using Bartholomew and Horowitz's two-dimensional model (1991) and nonverbal decoding accuracy was assessed through four subtests of the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy-2 (DANVA-2) (Nowicki, 2004). Thirty-six students were identified as "positive other" and 23 as "negative other." These groups did not differ in the nonverbal decoding of faces (adult or child) or child voices, p's > .05. However, there were significant group differences in the decoding of adult voices, t (57) = 2.24, p < .02 and total nonverbal accuracy scores, t (57) = 2.48, p < .01, with the "positive other" group demonstrating more nonverbal accuracy than the "negative other" group.

Largely influenced by early parent-child relationships, children develop characteristic styles of attachment that persist into adulthood and influence interpersonal relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) have proposed a two-dimensional model representing four possible styles of attachment based on views of the self (positive vs. negative) and views of other people (positive vs. negative). The four attachment styles are secure (positive self, positive other), preoccupied (negative self, positive other), dismissing (positive self, negative other), and fearful (negative self, negative other). Attachment and attachment styles are important constructs for exploring adult functioning because insecure styles of attachment have been shown to be associated with psychopathology and dysfunctional attitudes (Roberts, Gotlib, & Kassel, 1996), as well as stress-related coping styles (Mikulincer & Florian, 1998).

Because the attachment system begins in infancy, early attachment relationships and patterns of emotional communication may differentially impact the skills children develop in the processing of nonverbal cues. Over the course of development, different levels of nonverbal skills are likely to be associated with specific styles of attachment, and this variability in skills may, in turn, impact adult relationships. Magai, Hunziker, Mesias, and Culver (2000) noted that our early socialization and attachment experiences impact how we express and interpret emotions. Niedenthal, Brauer, Robin, and Innes-Ker (2002) suggested that facial expressions of emotion are particularly critical for providing information that promotes attachment-related goals, and the individual's style of attachment shapes the type of information that is decoded. In other words, differences in communication skills, particularly nonverbal skills, during the course of development may help to mediate the relationship between attachment history and adult differences in interpersonal success. However, research is limited regarding the relationship between attachment styles and nonverbal information processing.

Tucker and Anders (1998) found that a secure style of attachment was associated with the expression of positive nonverbal behaviors indicative of closeness in dating couples. These same authors (Tucker & Anders, 1999) also reported that males with an anxious attachment style were less accurate in interpreting the feelings of their dating partners. Magai et al. (2000) examined the relationship between attachment and the decoding of facial expressions as part of a larger study on attachment and emotional biases. They showed that specific styles of attachment were associated with biases for processing particular emotions; for example, a secure style was associated with an increased likelihood of identification of the emotion of shame. …

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