-Written by Katie Little ’18
How can we measure adult attachment? It’s certainly easier said than done. When Hazan and Shaver (1987) first came up with the concept of adult attachment as a means of explaining romantic bonds, they used Ainsworth’s categories of adult attachment—secure, anxious/ambivalent, and avoidant (For more information, see the blog post “What Does Attachment Theory Tell Us about Romantic Love?”). They determined which category participants in their study belonged to by having them identify which of three paragraphs best described their feelings about getting close to others. This method is sometimes criticized because adult attachment is perhaps a bit too complicated to be measured with just one question. In the past 30 years, several more comprehensive tests have been proposed, with one of the most famous being from Brennan, Clark, and Shaver (1998).
In 1998, Brennan, Clark, and Shaver created a new scale of measurement called the Experience in Close Relationships Scale (ECR). The ECR was designed to measure two qualities: Anxiety and Avoidance. Anxiety was defined primarily as fear of abandonment and therefore an extreme desire for closeness; Avoidance was primarily a fear of intimacy and a desire to remain independent from others.
The experimenters chose 60 different qualities that they thought would measure the degree to which a person demonstrated Anxiety or Avoidance. They then came up with nearly 500 questions to potentially ask subjects and kept eliminating redundant or unimportant questions until they chose the best 36. These 36 questions made up the ECR.
But how does this relate to attachment?
The Anxiety and Avoidance dimensions correlated nicely with a 4 category model of adult attachment created by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991).
- If someone had low anxiety and low avoidance, Bartholomew’s model would suggest that he or she was securely attached. Securely attached individuals are both comfortable with being close to others and with being independent.
- If an individual had low anxiety and high avoidance, he or she would match the dismissing category. This category generally avoids intimacy and is comfortable being independent.
- Individuals with high anxiety and low avoidance were characterized as preoccupied. These individuals heavily rely on relationships and avoid being alone.
- Finally, there was a group of individuals with high anxiety and high avoidance. This group is the fearful group, and individuals belonging to this group are afraid of intimacy and generally have low self-esteem.
All four categories have vastly different perceptions about relationships that can potentially affect the outcome of these relationships; however, while these adult attachment qualities can seem impossible to measure, the ECR was a critical early step in helping identify which category a person belonged to.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L.M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
Brennan, K.; Clark, C.; Shaver, P. (1998). Self-report measures of adult romantic attachment. In J. Simpson and W. Rholes, Attachment Theory and Close Relationships. New York: Guilford Press.
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