A study carried out by Shaver and Mikulincer sought to establish if there existed a link between a person’s attachment style and the degree to which they were altruistic (measured, in this research, by the person’s willingness to participate in volunteering activities / the motivation behind such willingness).
There are 4 adult attachment styles corresponding to the 4 infant attachment styles :
Adult attachment styles:
Corresponding infant classifications:
The participants in the study were categorized in relation to their particular attachment style by filling in questionnaires, as was the degree to which they undertook opportunities to volunteer (e.g. giving blood).
It was found that participants who scored highly on insecure avoidance took part in relatively few volunteer activities and spent less time on those activities they did undertake. Furthermore, when those who scored highly on insecure-avoidant attachment did volunteer to help others, it was found to be due to self-interest (e.g. for something good to put on their curriculum vitae’s or to gain school credit) rather than to altruism.
Participants who were deemed to have an anxious attachment style were found to volunteer to help others at an approximately equal rate to those who were categorized as having a secure attachment style. Again, though, in the case of those with an anxious attachment style, their motivation for volunteering was found to be more frequently based upon self-interest such as improving their image and bolstering their career prospects compared to those with a secure attachment style.
Based on the above and other evidence, Shaver has suggested that those with a secure attachment style tend to be more compassionate, sensitive to the needs of others and altruistic than those with anxious or avoidant attachment styles. If this is indeed the case, one hypothesis is that the findings are due to those with an anxious or avoidant attachment style having more psychological difficulties interacting with others than those with a secure attachment style which leaves them with less ‘mental energy’ and ‘mental space’ to deal helpfully with the needs of others. However, more research needs to be conducted on the relationship between attachment styles and altruism/compassion so that more concrete and definitive conclusions may be drawn.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).