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Personality and Individual Dierences 43 (2007) 11851197

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Attachment with parents and peers in late adolescence: Links with emotional competence and social behavior
Deborah Laible
*

Department of Psychology, Lehigh University, 17 Memorial Dr. East, Bethlehem, PA 18015, United States Received 25 August 2006; received in revised form 5 March 2007; accepted 16 March 2007 Available online 4 May 2007

Abstract The goal of this study was to examine whether the links between attachment security and social behavior in late adolescence were mediated by emotional competence. One hundred and seventeen late adolescents completed self-report measures of parent and peer attachment, social behavior, and emotional competence. Attachment security with both parents and peers was signicantly related to aspects of adolescent emotional and social competence. A path model revealed that parent and peer attachment had no direct links with social behavior. Instead, the links between parent and peer attachment and social behavior were indirect, mediated through aspects of emotional competence. These ndings suggest that secure attachment relationships foster appropriate social behavior by promoting high levels of emotional awareness, empathy, positive expressiveness, and low levels of negative dominant expressiveness. 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Attachment; Emotional competence; Social competence

1. Introduction Attachment theory, which was originally developed to explain the bond between infants and their caregivers, has become an important theory to explain the lasting inuence of close
*

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relationships on an individuals psychological well-being. The basic premise of attachment theory is that individuals experiences with the emotional availability of attachment gures in their lives shape their feelings of felt security and trust in others (Bowlby, 1980). As a result of their early experiences with caregivers, individuals construct internal working models of themselves, others, and relationships that they use to guide their expectations in subsequent close relationships (Bretherton, 1990). Individuals whose caregivers have been emotionally available, especially during periods of stress, construct internal working models of the self as worthy, others as trusting, and relationships as worthwhile and important. Conversely, individuals with a history of caregiver insensitivity construct negative working models of the self, others, and relationships. These models are expected to color an individuals approach to relationships and views of the self throughout the lifespan (Bowlby, 1980). Researchers have inferred the existence of internal working models based on the consistent links that attachment styles have had with social behavior, self-worth, and relational expectations across the lifespan (Allen & Land, 1999; Shaver & Mikulincer, 2002; Thompson, 1999). For example, in adolescence, researchers have found that secure individuals are more socially competent and less aggressive (Rice, 1990; Simons, Paternite, & Shore, 2001). Similarly, in adulthood, secure individuals (compared to insecure individuals) are more optimistic in the face of threats, are more comfortable seeking support when under stress, use more constructive coping strategies, and have more trusting beliefs about the goodwill of others (Shaver & Hazan, 1993; Shaver & Mikulincer, 2003). Thus, research indicates that individuals have dierent patterns of social behavior based upon their history of attachment experiences. Researchers have also argued that patterns of emotion expression and regulation are related to attachment styles (Cassidy, 1994). Attachment theorists have argued that childrens early relationships play a primary role in the development of emotion regulation and aect expression, because early on caregivers are responsible for helping children regulate emotions (Thompson, Flood, & Lundquist, 1995). Exposure to emotionally available caregivers in childhood has been shown to foster the open discussion and sharing of emotion, which in turn provides rich opportunities for a child to learn about emotion and emotion regulation (Laible, 2004; Volling, 2001). Research has supported the idea that secure children are more emotionally competent and has found that secure children are capable of maintaining organized behavior in the context of emotional arousal (Crittenden, 1992) and have higher levels of empathy than insecure children (Kestenbaum, Farber, & Sroufe, 1989). Similarly, Kobak, Cole, Ferenz-Gillies, Fleming, and Gamble (1993) found that secure adolescents were more successful at regulating emotion in the context of conict than were insecure adolescents. Thus, research supports the notion that secure individuals have adaptive patterns of emotional expression and regulation across the lifespan. In contrast, insecure individuals are more prone to being either overregulated or under regulated in their emotional expression (Zimmermann, 1999). These patterns of emotional expression are assumed to be attachment strategies that ow from an individuals internal working models (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003). Ultimately, secure adolescents might be more socially competent than insecure adolescents because of the emotional skills that they have learned in close relationships, including empathy, emotional expressiveness, and emotional awareness. Research has consistently linked all of these aspects of emotional competence with appropriate social behavior. High levels of empathy, for example, in adolescence have been linked with more prosocial behavior and less aggressive behav-

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ior (Carlo, Raaelli, Laible, & Meyer, 1999). Similarly, positive emotional expressiveness has also been linked with socially competent behavior in children (Roberts & Strayer, 1996). In contrast, high levels of negative dominant emotional expressiveness, or aversive displays of negative aect, have been linked with aggressive behavior in children (Strayer & Roberts, 2004). Finally, a lack of emotional awareness has been linked with a variety of interpersonal problems in adulthood (Spitzer, Siebel-Ju rges, Barnow, Grabe, & Freyberger, 2005). Lastly, it is important to realize that in adolescence, close relationships with peers, as well as parents, serve attachment needs. Adolescents increasingly turn to friends for emotional support during stress (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992). This is not to say that adolescents no longer rely on the support of parents, because research has not supported this idea. Instead, research has supported that adolescents continue to use parents for some attachment needs (Nickerson & Nagle, 2005) and that attachment security with parents continues to predict an individuals well-being even into young adulthood (Larson, Richards, Moneta, Holmbeck, & Duckett, 1996). Despite this, research has supported that by adolescence, peers also begin to serve many attachment needs, including serving as sources of emotional support, safe havens, and proximity seeking and that the longer peer relationships last, the more likely peers are to serve these functions (Fraley & Davis, 1997; Hazan & Zeifman, 1999; Nickerson & Nagle, 2005). This may be especially important in early and mid-adolescence when adolescents are striving to seek autonomy from parents. As a result, many attachment researchers do in fact consider peers to be attachment gures in adolescence (Allen & Land, 1999).

2. Conclusions and the current study Overall, research has established links between attachment security and adolescents social behavior and emotional competence. What has not been established is whether the links between attachment and adolescent social development are in fact accounted for by the links that attachment security has with emotional development. There are good reasons to believe that the emotional skills that adolescents learn in the context of close attachment relationships play an important role in fostering socially appropriate behavior. As a result, the goal of this study was to examine whether the links between parent and peer attachment security, and adolescents reports of prosocial and aggressive behavior were mediated by emotional expressiveness, empathy, and emotional awareness. Based on previous research, it was expected that adolescents with secure relationships to both parents and peers would report high levels of emotional awareness, positive expressivity, and empathy, and low levels of negative dominant expressiveness (Ducharme, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 2002; Lyons-Ruth, Alpern, & Repacholi, 1993). Similarly, secure attachment relationships with both peers and parents were also expected to relate to high levels of empathy and low levels of aggressive behavior (Laible, Carlo, & Raaelli, 2000). Because of the fact that peer relationships are more reciprocal, attachment security to peers was expected to be more strongly related to adolescent reports of empathy and prosocial behavior. Researchers have argued that peer relationships are unique in their ability to provide the types of interactions that lead to the development of empathy, perspective taking, and prosocial behavior (Youniss, 1980). Lastly, it was expected that the emotional competence variables, including emotional expressivity, empathy,

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and emotional awareness would mediate the relationship between attachment and social behavior in late adolescence.

3. Method 3.1. Participants One hundred and seventeen late adolescents (M age = 19.6; SD = 1.41) completed a packet of self-report measures in order to receive course credit in a psychology class. Participants were approximately equally split by gender (65 females, 52 males) and were predominantly Caucasian (78%). Demographic items included questions about the parents level of education (average of parents education; M = 4.6, SD = 1.10 on a seven-point scale where 4 = graduated from twoyear college or technical school and 5 = graduated from a 4-year college or university). The survey also included the following scales. 3.1.1. Parent and peer attachment Students completed the Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment (Armsden & Greenberg, 1987). The IPPA was designed to assess both the aective and cognitive dimensions of attachment security. Both the parent (a = .88) and peer scales (a = .90) consisted of 25 items and were rated on a ve-point scale (sample items: my parents/friends understand me). Each of the subscales (trust, alienation, and communication) was submitted to a PC factor analysis and a parallel factor emerged for both parent and peer attachment. The factor from the parent scales was labeled parental secure attachment (k = 2.41%; 80.4% of the variance) and consisted of trust (.91) and communication (.88), which loaded positively and alienation, which loaded negatively (.90). The factor from the peer scales was labeled peer secure attachment (k = 2.31%; 77.1% of the variance) and consisted of trust (.92) and communication (.91), which loaded positively and alienation, which loaded negatively (.80). 3.1.2. Empathy Students completed the empathic concern and perspective taking subscales from the Interpersonal Reactivity Questionnaire (Davis, 1983). Both the empathic concern scale (a = .79) and the perspective taking scale (a = .71) consisted of seven items and were rated on a ve-point scale. Because perspective taking and empathic concern are theoretically related (Davis, 1983), an empathy scale (a = .77) was formed by combining the two scales (sample item: I am often touched by things that I see happen). Preliminary correlational analysis indicated that the empathic concern and perspective taking scales were signicantly interrelated (r = .41, p < .001). 3.1.3. Emotional expressiveness To measure emotional expressiveness, participants completed the Self-Expressiveness Questionnaire (SEQ; Halberstadt, Cassidy, Stifter, Parke, & Fox, 1995). The SEQ (rated on a nine-point scale) assesses how frequently the adolescent expresses emotions that are positive (a = .86), negative dominant (a = .80), or negative-submissive. Negative dominant emotions consist of those negative emotions that are abrasive and confrontational (sample item: showing contempt for

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anothers actions). The scale for negative submissive emotions (i.e., sadness) was dropped, because of lack of clear theoretical predictions with either attachment or outcomes (Halberstadt, Crisp, & Eaton, 1999). 3.1.4. Emotional awareness Participants also completed the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-20 (TAS-20; Bagby, Parker, & Taylor, 1994). Alexithymia involves diculties describing and identifying emotions. The TAS has three subscales that were submitted to a PC factor analysis: diculty identifying feelings, diculty describing feelings, and externally-oriented thinking. One factor emerged (k = 2.02%, 67.5% of the variance) on which all three scales loaded positively (all above .70). This factor was reversed scored and labeled emotional awareness (a = .87; sample reversed item: I am confused about what emotion I am feeling). 3.1.5. Prosocial behavior To measure their prosocial behavior, adolescents also completed four scales from the Prosocial Tendencies Measure (Carlo & Randall, 2002). The four scales, dire, emotional, altruistic, and anonymous prosocial behavior, were rated on a ve-point scale (sample item: I usually help others when they are very upset). Because the scales were theoretically related and to reduce the number of scales, these four scales were submitted to a PC factor analysis. All four of the scales loaded on a single factor (k = 1.72%, 43% of the variance) and this factor was labeled prosocial behavior (a = .73). 3.1.6. Aggression Aggression was measured by using the Suppression of Aggression subscale (ve items) from the Weinberger Adjustment Inventory (Weinberger, 1991). The aggression scale (a = .83) was rated on a ve-point scale. Higher scores indicated more aggression (sample item: People who get me angry better watch out).

4. Results 4.1. Descriptive information and bivariate relationships Descriptive information and bivariate relations between the variables appear in Table 1. Adolescent reports of peer attachment security were related to all aspects of emotional and social competence. Adolescents who were secure with peers reported more emotional awareness, positive expressiveness, empathy, and prosocial behavior. Adolescents who were secure with peers also reported less negative dominant expressiveness and less aggression. Adolescents who reported feeling secure in their attachment relationships to parents also reported high levels of socioemotional competence, including high levels of positive expressiveness, emotional awareness, and prosocial behavior and low levels of negative dominant expressiveness. In addition, adolescents who reported high levels of emotional competence also reported more socially competent behavior. Adolescents who reported high levels of empathy, emotional awareness, and positive expressiveness also reported high levels of prosocial behavior and low levels of

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Table 1 Bivariate correlations among the variables Variables 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.


** a b c

Mean
a

SD 1.0 1.0 .52 .85 1.07 1.0 1.0 .82

2 .51
**

3 .29 .01
**

4 .31 .31** .49**


**

5 .38** .24 .44** .18


**

6 .42 .36** .35** .31** .27**


**

7 .28 .23** .33** .44** .17 .18**


**

8 .29** .11 .54** .28** .63** .19** .17

Peer attachment Parent attachmenta Empathy Positive expressiveness Negative dominant expressiveness Emotional awarenessb Prosocial behaviorc Aggressive behavior

0 0 3.69 7.22 4.30 0 0 2.08

p < .01. These scores reect the factor analyses of the subscales of the IPPA. This score reects the factor analyses of the TAS. This score reects the factor analyses of the PTM.

aggressive behavior. Furthermore, adolescents who reported high levels of negative dominant expressiveness also reported high levels of aggressive behavior. 4.2. Regression models predicting outcomes Hierarchical regression models were built to predict both socioemotional outcomes from parent and peer attachment. Gender and parent education were entered on the rst step to control for their eects, since other researchers have found links between the variables and many aspects of socioemotional competence (e.g., Laible, Carlo, & Roesch, 2004; Roberts & Strayer, 1996; Zimmer-Bembeck, Geiger, & Crick, 2005).1 Parent and peer attachment were entered on the second step of the models. In the models predicting social behavior (Table 2), both the addition of the control variables and parent and peer attachment accounted for signicant increases in variance accounted for in the models predicting prosocial and aggressive behavior. In addition, gender and peer attachment made independent contributions to both full models. Females and those with secure peer relationships rated themselves as higher in prosocial behavior and lower in aggressive behavior than males. In the model predicting emotional awareness (Table 3), only the addition of parent and peer attachment on the second step of the model signicantly increased the amount of variance accounted for in the model. Only peer attachment made an independent contribution to the model. Those adolescents who were secure with peers reported high levels of emotional awareness. In the model predicting positive expressiveness, the addition of both the control variables and parent and peer attachment signicantly increased the amount of variance accounted for in the model. Both parent attachment and gender made signicant independent contributions to the
In general, research has found that girls score higher on self-report measures of empathy, expressiveness, and prosocial behavior than boys. Boys, however, tend to score higher on aggression. In general, adolescents from higher SES brackets (with more educated parents) also tend to score higher on socioemotional competence than those from lower SES brackets.
1

D. Laible / Personality and Individual Dierences 43 (2007) 11851197 Table 2 Regression models predicting social behavior from parent and peer attachment Variables and step Prosocial behavior 1. Gender Parent education 2. Parent attachment Peer attachment Aggression 1. Gender Parent education 2. Parent attachment Peer attachment
*p

1191

b at nal step .18** .07 .09 .22** .33** .01 .09 .27**

R2 change

Total R2

.05** .07**

.04** .12**

.15** .05**

.15** .20**

< .05,

** p

< .01.

overall signicant full model. Girls and those adolescents who were secure with parents reported the highest levels of positive expressiveness. In the model predicting negative dominant expressiveness, only the addition of parent and peer attachment on the second step of the model increased signicantly the amount of variance accounted for in the model. Only peer attachment made a signicant contribution to the model.
Table 3 Regression models predicting emotional competence variables Variables and step Emotional awareness 1. Gender Parent education 2. Parent attachment Peer attachment Positive expressiveness 1. Gender Parent education 2. Parent attachment Peer attachment Negative dominant expressiveness 1. Gender Parent education 2. Parent attachment Peer attachment Empathy 1. Gender Parent education 2. Parent attachment Peer attachment
+

b at nal step .04 .01 .17 .33** .43** .11 .32** .01 .09 .05 .01 .37** .26** .16 .18+ .35** < .01.

R2 change

Total R2

.02 .19**

.02 .22**

.22** .10**

.22** .33**

.03 .13**

.03 .17**

.14** .08**

.14** .22**

p < .10, * p < .05,

** p

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Adolescents who reported secure attachments with peers reported expressing less negative dominant aect. In the model predicting empathy, both the control variables and parent and peer attachment increased signicantly the amount of variance accounted for in the model. Both gender and peer attachment made signicant independent contributions to the overall signicant model predicting empathy. Girls and adolescents with secure peer relationships reported high levels of empathy. 4.3. Path model predicting social behavior Finally, in order to test whether parent and peer attachment had any direct links with social behavior, or whether these links were mediated by the emotional competence variables, a path model using multiple regression analyses was built (see Fig. 1). Consistent with predictions, parent and peer attachment had no direct links with social behavior after the emotional competence variables were taken into account in the model. These path coecients in the full regressions models were not signicant (b < .15, ps > .05). Both parent and peer attachment were indirectly related to prosocial behavior through their links with positive expressiveness. Parent attachment was also

Emotional Awareness NS .21** NS Parent attachment .20* Positive Expressiveness .31** Prosocial behavior

NS .19*

NS

NS

.20*

.20* -.33**

Negative dominant Expressiveness

.49**

Peer attachment .38** NS -.33**

Aggressive behavior

Empathy

Fig. 1. Path model showing indirect relations between attachment and social behavior.

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indirectly related to aggressive behavior through its links with empathy. Similarly, peer attachment was indirectly related to aggression through its links with both negative dominant expressiveness and empathy.

5. Discussion The goal of this study was to examine the links between parent and peer attachment, emotional competence, and social behavior. The ndings support the idea that a secure attachment relationship with parents and peers was associated with more social and emotional competence. Adolescents with secure relationships to parents and peers reported being more emotionally aware, more sympathetic, more prosocial, and expressing more positive aect than those adolescents who were less secure. In addition, secure adolescents reported expressing less negative dominant expressiveness and engaging in less aggressive behavior than insecure adolescents. Multivariate relations suggested that it was primarily secure attachments with peers that promoted socioemotional competence in late adolescence. Peer attachment had stronger direct relations with all aspects of socioemotional development than did parent attachment. The only exception was for positive expressiveness, where parent attachment continued to be a signicant predictor even with peer attachment in the model. These ndings raise two possibilities. First, a number of researchers have argued that peer relationships may overtake parents as primary attachment gures in the attachment hierarchy in late adolescence (see Allen & Land, 1999). A more likely possibility, however, is that peer attachment relationships may be important for fostering particular domains of adjustment, especially those related to social behavior and social emotions. Researchers have long argued that peer relationships are unique, because they involve more mutual reciprocity than other types of relationships (e.g., parentchild) that involve more unilateral power (e.g., Youniss, 1980). As a result, peer attachment relationships might provide a unique context in which adolescents develop certain types of socioemotional competence, such as empathy and prosocial behavior. This perspective does not rule out the importance of parent child attachment relationships for the development of other types of competencies (e.g., self-esteem). In fact, research has supported the idea that a secure attachment with parents in late adolescence and early adulthood is linked with multiple aspects of well-being, including high selfesteem and low psychological distress (Bradford & Lyddon, 1993; Laible et al., 2004). In addition, the ndings from this study support the idea that both parent and peer attachment may exert their inuence on social behavior through the inuence that they have the development of emotional competence. Results from path analyses, suggested that both parent and peer attachment, have no discernable direct inuence on the development of socially competent behavior. Instead, the links between attachment and adolescent reports of social behavior were entirely mediated through empathy and emotional expressiveness. These ndings are consistent with some of the core ideas of attachment theory. Attachment theorists have argued that having responsive attachment gures in times of distress gives an individual the emotional tools needed to cope with negative aect (Cassidy, 1994; Kobak et al., 1993). Therefore, it is not surprising that adolescents in this study with secure attachment relationships reported experiencing less negative dominant aect and more positive aect on a daily basis. It seems likely that secure adolescents have the ability to regulate their aect in a way that is more successful than insecure adolescents. Similarly,

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having sympathetic attachment gures in times of distress may also promote the development of that same skill (i.e., empathy) with others. Adult attachment theorists have also theorized that prosocial and sympathetic reactions are products of the attachment caregiving system and the optimal functioning of this system occurs in securely attached individuals (see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). Consistent with other research, emotionally competent adolescents were also more likely to be prosocial and less likely to report being aggressive. In particular, adolescents who reported high levels of positive aect also reported being more prosocial. Although few researchers have examined the link between positive expressiveness and prosocial behavior, researchers have found links between temperamental aspects of positive emotionality and prosocial behavior (see e.g., Eisenberg et al., 1996). Thus, high levels of positive expressiveness may be an indicator of a broader positive social orientation that is linked with appropriate social behavior. Researchers, however, have also found that individuals are more likely to help when they are in a positive mood (Carlson, Charlin, & Miller, 1988). Therefore, adolescents who report being high in positive expressiveness may also be more prosocial, because they spend a larger proportion of their time in a positive mood than do those adolescents who report lower levels of positive expressiveness. In this study, higher levels of aggressive behavior in adolescents were linked with higher levels of negative dominant expressiveness and lower levels of empathy. The links between hostile displays of negative emotion and aggression have long been established (see e.g., Harmon-Jones, 2003; Ramirez & Andreu, 2005). In addition, researchers have also found consistent links between a lack of empathy and aggressive behavior (Carlo et al., 1999). A number of theorists have proposed that individuals who experience empathy are less aggressive, because they have the capacity to understand the negative consequences that aggressive behavior has on both the self and others (Feshbach & Feshbach, 1986). Finally, this study found that females reported higher levels of appropriate social behavior and more positive expressiveness than males. These ndings are consistent with the previous research (e.g., Laible et al., 2004; Roberts & Strayer, 1996). These ndings also support the idea that females are socialized towards and display an orientation emphasizing relationships and cooperation. Given that the data from this study are solely self-report, future studies need to replicate the ndings with observational data or using multiple reporters. In addition, because of the correlational nature of this study, the direction of the eects is not clear and causal interpretations must be made cautiously. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the links between attachment and socioemotional outcomes are bi-directional. For example, it seems likely that adolescents who are emotionally and socially competent are also more likely to be from and maintain secure relationships. In turn, by being a part of secure relationships, adolescents and young adults construct emotional and relational competence. Lastly, given the homogeneity of this studys sample (Caucasian college students), generalizing the ndings from this study should be done with caution. Despite these limitations, the ndings from this study do highlight the importance of examining the links between attachment styles, emotion, and social behavior. From a practical stand point, it seems important to understand the potential mediating links between attachment and social behavior. A number of researchers have emphasized the importance of examining emotional variables (see e.g., Zimmermann, 1999) and our research supports the importance of examining these variables as well. From an intervention standpoint, our ndings also suggest the importance of

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