Handbook of Interpersonal Psychology: Theory, Research, Assessment and Therapeutic Interventions

By Leonard M. Horowitz; Stephen Strack | Go to book overview

2
AN ATTACHMENT-THEORY
FRAMEWORK FOR CONCEPTUALIZING
INTERPERSONAL BEHAVIOR

Phillip R. Shaver

Mario Mikulincer

Attachment theory, created by Bowlby (1973, 1980, 1982) and initially rendered testable by Ainsworth (e.g., Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978), has become one of the leading approaches to conceptualizing and studying close interpersonal relationships. (See Cassidy & Shaver, 2008, and Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007a, for overviews of attachment research in general and attachment theory applied to the study of adult relationships in particular.) The theory postulates core motivational, or behavioral, “systems” such as attachment, exploration, caregiving, and sexuality, which humans share to some extent with nonhuman primates (Bowlby, 1982). It characterizes these systems as having experientially modifiable parameters, which (in addition to modest genetic influences), account for relatively stable individual differences in what has come to be called “attachment style” (see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007a, for a history of this construct).

In this chapter, we explore the relevance of attachment theory for understanding individual differences in interpersonal behavior, and we propose a general attachment-oriented framework for conceptualizing such behavior. We begin with a brief summary of attachment theory and an account of the two major dimensions of attachment style in adulthood, attachment anxiety and avoidance. We then review evidence concerning the associations between these dimensions and interpersonal behavior, proposing that the associations are mediated by both attachment-related cognitive-motivational predispositions and patterns of social information processing. Next we review studies of the ways in which attachment style contributes to a person’s goal structures, mental representations of self and others, and mental scripts concerning interpersonal transactions as well as information-processing biases during social interactions. Finally, we consider factors responsible for individual

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