A COGNITIVE PRIMING APPROACH TO THE STUDY OF ADULT ATTACHMENT
In recent years, no single area of research in personality/social psychology has attracted more interest than the application of attachment theory to the study of adult romantic relationships. This research has focused almost exclusively on individual differences. To date the field lacks a set of objective standards for determining whether participants in attachment research are, in fact, attached. The current study explores the validity of a self-report measure of attachment (i.e., the WHOTO). This self-report measure identifies the figures toward whom individuals direct the four behaviors that define attachment (i.e., proximity maintenance, safe haven, separation distress and secure base). Using a lexical decision task, I recorded the relative speed with which participants recognize the names of reported significant people following a subliminally-presented threat or neutral word prime. I hypothesized that participants who direct all four attachment behaviors toward one figure will react faster to the significant person's name after a threat word prime compared with a neutral one. A total of 127 participants took part in Study 1, in which the prime was an attachment-related threat (i.e., the word "separation"), and 69 participants took part in Study 2, in which the prime was an attachment-unrelated threat (i.e., participant's idiosyncratic fear). I found that participants who direct all attachment behaviors toward the significant person were faster to recognize the figure's name after a threatening word compared with a neutral one, whereas the opposite was true for participants who do not direct all attachment behaviors toward the significant person. These results contribute to further validation of the WHOTO as a measure of normative attachment that can be used to distinguish between relationships that have some attachment components and relationships that qualify as full-blown attachments. In addition, participants who direct all attachment behaviors toward their romantic partner reacted faster to his/her name after a threatening word compared with a neutral one only if they were cohabiting. This finding highlights the importance of physical proximity in adult romantic attachment.
attachment; priming; adult; normative
dissertation or thesis