First Study to Investigate How Attachment Style Changes Through Multiple Decades of Life

Posted on June 12, 2019

Wiliam Chopik and his colleagues were the first to document how attachment style varies, on average, through decades of the lifespan, from age 13 to 72. The results suggest that, like other aspects of personality, attachment style is relatively stable through life, but it is not entirely fixed. Our attachment styles can still be shaped by our relationship experiences, as well as the varied social demands of the different life stages.

The data comes from five historic projects, involving personality surveys of 628 US citizens born between 1920 and 1967. They all involved participants being assessed repeatedly over many years using the California Adult Q-sort – a measure that includes 100 personality items. Chopik and his team had focused on 14 key items from this measure, allowing them to compile scores for “anxious attachment” and “avoidant attachment” for each participant. Participants who score highly on “avoidant attachment” find intimacy uncomfortable and find it difficult to provide emotional support to others. Meanwhile, low scores on both anxiety and avoidance is a sign of having a secure attachment style.

Chopik and his team were able to identify clear age-related trends in the same individuals over time. Specifically, the team found that people’s anxious attachment tends to be higher in adolescence, increasing into their young adulthood, before then declining through life into their middle and old age. Avoidant attachment showed less change with age but started higher in adolescence and then declined in linear fashion through life.
Researchers deduced that attachment anxiety and avoidance may be high in adolescence because of stressful transition from having primarily close bonds with parents to having meaningful relationships with peers and first romantic relationships. They also pointed out that mid-life – when anxiety and avoidance tend to decline – is arguably the time when we are most invested in various social roles and relationships. These changes may increase one’s security and result in people becoming more comfortable in their relationships and having partners who serve attachment needs and functions can promote close relations. By investing in these social roles, individuals adhere to the rules and appropriate behavior of close relationships and may change how they approach relationships, perhaps becoming more secure.

There is room for future research to build on, including looking at how the consequences of different attachment styles might vary at different stages of life, and whether and how early life experiences might interact with the developmental trends identified in this study. Researchers believe that through examination of these future directions and identifying the conditions under which attachment orientation changes, we will better understand Bowlby’s claim that attachment experiences are important from the cradle to the grave.

Category(s):Attachment Issues

Source material from Research Digest

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