Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Adult Attachment Orientations and College Student Distress: The Mediating Role of Problem Coping Styles. (Research)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Adult Attachment Orientations and College Student Distress: The Mediating Role of Problem Coping Styles. (Research)

Article excerpt

Understanding the role and function of individual differences contributing to student distress and to stress-related coping is an important concern for college counselors and student personnel workers. To adequately address this concern, investigations with a basis in theory are especially needed because simple descriptive studies are limited in clarifying why certain person variables may be especially important and how these variables may affect the experience of distress through their more direct impact on coping processes. Drawing on attachment theory, this study examined relations among students' adult attachment orientations, problem coping styles, and current levels of distress. Guided by findings from the adult attachment literature, we proposed and tested a model wherein problem coping styles mediated the impact of insecure attachment orientations on distress.

AN ATTACHMENT THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE ON COPING AND DISTRESS

Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1982, 1988) is principally concerned with the nature of close, enduring emotional bonds, or attachments, and how these unique relationships affect the life course. Bowlby (1988) argued that the quality of early relationships with primary caregivers shape human beings' self-images of competence and lovability, as well as their general expectations about the trustworthiness and dependability of others to provide assistance in times of need. Children who develop a secure attachment bond with their caregivers experience these adult figures as warm and consistently responsive to their emotional needs yet also encouraging of autonomous exploration. As a result, within the first year of life, securely attached children are assumed to form generally favorable cognitive schemas of themselves and of others and to demonstrate appropriate development of their affect regulation capabilities. By contrast, children who develop insecure attachments with their caregivers experience these persons either as inconsistently responsive to, overcontrolling of, or consistently rejecting their bids for care and support. As a result, insecurely attached children are assumed to internalize less favorable schemas of themselves and of others, either viewing themselves as unlovable or others as undependable, or both. These interpersonal orientations are further assumed to dispose the insecurely attached child toward less functional forms of affect regulation that emphasize either chronic hypervigilance and proximity-seeking or social avoidance and emotional disengagement. Moreover, Bowlby (1988) conjectured that, once formed, both secure and insecure attachment orientations would be relatively stable and enduring and would thereby function as templates for organizing the person's functioning in subsequent (adult) intimate relationships.

From the mid-1980s to the present, researchers have been developing both categorical and continuous self-report measures of adult attachment styles and orientations. Although the psychometric limitations of categorical measures of the attachment construct have been noted (Garbarino, 1998), the most recent generation of continuously scaled measures of adult attachment generally evidence expected intercorrelations and adequate internal consistencies (Sperling, Foelsch, & Grace, 1996). In addition, the most commonly used measures have demonstrated moderate test-retest reliability for periods ranging from 8 months (Scharfe & Bartholomew, 1994) to 4 years (Kirkpatrick & Hazan, 1994), and a recent factor analysis of virtually all available adult attachment orientation measures confirmed an underlying two-factor structure, with one factor tapping an orientation toward anxious attachment and the other an orientation toward avoidant attachment (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998).

The development of these measures has spawned extensive literature examining associations between these interpersonal orientations and various adjustment indexes (see Simpson & Rholes, 1998, for a recent review). …

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