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The concept of attachment and different attachment styles has a long tradition in developmental psychology. Mary Ainsworth developed a classification for three different attachment styles that she called secure, insecure-resistant or synonymously insecure-ambivalent and finally insecure-avoidant (Main, 1996). Assessment of these styles is done with the Strange-Situation-Test. Later, a fourth style called insecure-disorganized-disoriented was introduced to account for a number of children that would not have been classifiable otherwise (Main & Solomon, 1990).

A corresponding classification has also been developed for attachment styles in adults. The four styles here are called secure-autonomous, dismissing, preoccupied and unresolved-disorganized (Main, 1996). Assessment is done using the Adult Attachement Interview.

Recently I have read a couple of papers that investigate the association between attachment styles and various forms of stress reactivity, that used the terms attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance (Selcuk et al., 2012; Ben-Naim et al., 2013; Ein-Dor et al., 2011). The authors explain what is meant by these terms. Those two attachment orientations as they are called are asses with the Experience in Close Relationships Scales (ECR, Fraley et al., 2000). I am confused as to how these terms fit into the picture of the attachment styles.

Is this another classification of attachement styles?

Ben-Naim, S., Hirschberger, G., Ein-Dor, T., & Mikulincer, M. (2013). An experimental study of emotion regulation during relationship conflict interactions: The moderating role of attachment orientations. Emotion, 13(3), 506–519. doi:10.1037/a0031473
Ein-Dor, T., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2011). Attachment insecurities and the processing of threat-related information: Studying the schemas involved in insecure people’s coping strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 78–93. doi:10.1037/a0022503 PDF
Fraley, R. C., Waller, N. G., & Brennan, K. A. (2000). An item response theory analysis of self-report measures of adult attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 350–365. doi:10.1037/0022- 3514.78.2.350 PDF
Main, M. (1996). Introduction to the special section on attachment and psychopathology: 2. Overview of the field of attachment. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 64(2), 237.
Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1990). Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/disoriented during the Ainsworth Strange Situation. Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research, and intervention, 1, 121–160.
Selcuk, E., Zayas, V., Günaydin, G., Hazan, C., & Kross, E. (2012). Mental representations of attachment figures facilitate recovery following upsetting autobiographical memory recall. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(2), 362–378. doi:10.1037/a0028125 PDF

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May be of interest attach-china.org/types.html –  user3554 Aug 23 '13 at 17:41
@Damien Hmm,interesting. They use the terms I asked about. And from that website it seems that all styles are on one dimension with an ordering from "good" to "bad". That's yet another view. –  Jens Kouros Aug 25 '13 at 10:11

3 Answers 3


There is abundant research linking childhood attachment styles and adult attachment styles. This doesn't mean that an individual's attachment style is set in stone for life; it is a good indicator of how a child will fare as an adult.

The advent of Attachment theory:

A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research R. Chris Fraley | University of Illinois

... Bowlby postulated that these attachment behaviors, such as crying and searching, were adaptive responses to separation from with a primary attachment figure--someone who provides support, protection, and care. Because human infants, like other mammalian infants, cannot feed or protect themselves, they are dependent upon the care and protection of "older and wiser" adults. Bowlby argued that, over the course of evolutionary history, infants who were able to maintain proximity to an attachment figure via attachment behaviors would be more likely to survive to a reproductive age. According to Bowlby, a motivational system, what he called the attachment behavioral system, was gradually "designed" by natural selection to regulate proximity to an attachment figure.

John Bowlby was the father of Attachment Theory; Mary Ainsworth tested and developed this theory.

... John Bowlby formulated the basic tenets of the theory. ...
Mary Ainsworth’s innovative methodology not only made it possible to test some of Bowlby’s ideas empirically hut also helped expand the theory itself and is responsible for some of the new directions it is now taking.


John Bowlby - Attachment Theory

It is difficult to separate more recent attachment theory from its progenitor; as this is the source from which all attachment theory has evolved.

Attachment style categorisation:

Any style of attachment, that is not a healthy or secure attachment style is classified as an insecure attachment style or an attachment disorder.

This answer here addresses attachment disorders, in particular, ambivalent attachment disorder in detail.

Maryland's Source for Attachment Disorder Related Information
Note I've added bold for emphasis.


The predominant emotion internally, in Avoidant AD {AvAD} children is sadness. However, the world sees little or none of their sadness. AvAD children believe their sadness is infinite, and should they lapse into it, they see no exit. Hence, they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid any expression of it, and usually effectively shield themselves from even recognizing their sadness. Their internal shields work so well that they often truly do not think they are sad. What AvAD children do feel is an anxious edge in quieter moments. They rarely relax, lest their sadness “creep up” on them. Their hypervigilance is more about deflecting anything that might activate their sadness rather than simply scanning for direct hostile threats. As physical / emotional closeness carries a high potential for triggering their sadness, AvAD children avoid it. Attitudinally, AvAD children are contemptuous of sadness- they define it as the “stuff of sissies”. AvAD children present themselves as omnipotent and without need for others. About half of these children lie somewhere along the spectrum of depressive disorders.


The primary emotion Anxious AD {AxAD} children feel is anxiety ...


The characteristic emotion of children with Disorganized Attachment Disorder {DAD} is overwhelming and unmanageable anxiety.

A cross over of avoidance and anxiety attachment disorders:


Note: my answer gives a more comprehensive overview of Ambivalent Attachment Disorder and how it is classified as an Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Reactive attachment disorder

What is reactive attachment disorder?

In reactive attachment disorder, DSM-IV considers two basic types of behavior. Representative of the hindered type of attachment disorder, is a child who “constantly refuses to initiate or respond to social activity, as it is expected of children in his age and level of development. It’s expressed in too depressed, too sensitive or highly controversial reaction, for example, a child may respond differently to the teacher: to avoid and refuse caress or to express increased vigilance (“frozen vigilance”).

Highlights of Changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5

Reactive Attachment Disorder
The DSM-IV childhood diagnosis reactive attachment disorder had two subtypes: emotionally withdrawn/inhibited and indiscriminately social/disinhibited. In DSM-5, these subtypes are defined as distinct disorders: reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited social engagement disorder. Both of these disorders are the result of social neglect or other situations that limit a young child’s opportunity to form selective attachments. Although sharing this etiological pathway, the two disorders differ in important ways. Because of dampened positive affect, reactive attachment disorder more closely resembles internalizing disorders; it is essentially equivalent to a lack of or incompletely formed preferred attachments to caregiving adults. In contrast, disinhibited social engagement disorder more closely resembles ADHD; it may occur in children who do not necessarily lack attachments and may have established or even secure attachments. The two disorders differ in other important ways, including correlates, course, and response to intervention, and for these reasons are considered separate disorders

A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research R. Chris Fraley | University of Illinois

Recent research on adult attachment has revealed some interesting complexities concerning the relationships between avoidance and defense. Although some avoidant adults, often called fearfully-avoidant adults, are poorly adjusted despite their defensive nature, others, often called dismissing-avoidant adults, are able to use defensive strategies in an adaptive way. For example, in an experimental task in which adults were instructed to discuss losing their partner, Fraley and Shaver (1997) found that dismissing individuals (i.e., individuals who are high on the dimension of attachment-related avoidance but low on the dimension of attachment-related anxiety) were just as physiologically distressed (as assessed by skin conductance measures) as other individuals. When instructed to suppress their thoughts and feelings, however, dismissing individuals were able to do so effectively. That is, they could deactivate their physiological arousal to some degree and minimize the attention they paid to attachment-related thoughts. Fearfully-avoidant individuals were not as successful in suppressing their emotions.

This figure from Attachment as an Organizational Framework for Research on Close Relationships Cindy Hazan Cornell University, Phillip R. Shaver University of California, Davis; shows the basis of cause and effect underlying attachment.

Attachment model

Attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance.

This figure shows how this cause and effect is classified into attachment styles. Defensiveness leading to avoidance, fear leading to anxiety.

Attachment model2

Attachment orientations

This figure taken from A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research gives a nice representation of how defensiveness and fear translate into attachment styles or attachment orientations.


These diagrams also give a good representation of childhood cause and adult attachment style affect.

secureambivalent avoidantdisorganised
images courtesy of Attachment Styles By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide

The Experiences in Close Relationships-Revised (ECR-R) Questionnaire Fraley, Waller, and Brennan (2000) - Iive added emphasis within this quote.

Scoring Information: The first 18 items listed below comprise the attachment-related anxiety scale. Items 19 – 36 comprise the attachment-related avoidance scale. In real research, the order in which these items are presented should be randomized. Each item is rated on a 7-point scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree. To obtain a score for attachment-related anxiety, please average a person’s responses to items 1 – 18. However, because items 9 and 11 are “reverse keyed” (i.e., high numbers represent low anxiety rather than high anxiety), you’ll need to reverse the answers to those questions before averaging the responses. (If someone answers with a “6” to item 9, you’ll need to re-key it as a 2 before averaging.) To obtain a score for attachment-related avoidance, please average a person’s responses to items 19 – 36. Items 20, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, and 36 will need to be reverse keyed before you compute this average.

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Thanks a lot for your effort, I appreciate it. +1 Please give me some time to respond, my schedule does not always allow me to comment right after something has been posted. There was a lot in your answer that did not really relate to my question, though. I found the answer I was looking for and posted it. When you read it, I think you will know what I mean. Since the site is about getting good answers, maybe you want to consider editing your answer a bit? –  Jens Kouros Sep 11 '13 at 8:59
I don't think that you should delete it. Concentrate on the stuff about attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety. That's totally relevant. –  Jens Kouros Sep 11 '13 at 9:41

In the introduction to their study, Conradi et al. (2006) give a brief and very good overview over the different approaches to classify and measure attachment styles. I encourage everyone, who is interested in the subject to read it. However, since it is the answer to my question, I will summarise it here.

As I said in my question, research on attachment styles started with the classification by Ainsworth and Main, who were concerned with the infant-caregiver relationship. Later, an adult attachment focus was established by Hazan and Shaver. The paper then goes on to say that "after that, a bewildering variety of adult attachment typologies, adult attachment-related constructs, and measurement instruments" were developed. Within the adult attachment tradition, Bartholomew then "returned to Bowlby's original conceptualization of two working models", the model of self and the model of other. From these two bi-polar dimensions, the four attachment styles I mentioned in my question emerge.

Brennan and collegues "collected all adult attachment self-report scales known at that time", administered them to a sample of 1086 psychology students and found two underlying factors, which they call attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety. The 18 items with the highest loadings on each of the two factors were the combined to two subscales which form the Experiences in Close Relationships Questionaire (ECR).

So, yes, the distinction between attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety is a different way of of studying attachment. The ECR (or the revised versions of it) seems to be a promising method for further study, because, as Fraley et al. (2000) mention, research has not supported a categorial model of attachment styles.


Jan Conradi, H., Gerlsma, C., Duijn, M. V., & Jonge, P. D. (2006). Internal and external validity of the experiences in close relationships questionnaire in an American and two Dutch samples. The European journal of psychiatry, 20(4), 258-269. HTML
Fraley, R. C., Waller, N. G., & Brennan, K. A. (2000). An item response theory analysis of self-report measures of adult attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 350–365. doi:10.1037/0022- 3514.78.2.350 PDF

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Please consider the work of Dr. Patricia Crittenden; "Dynamic-Maturational Model (DMM) of Attachment & Adaptation". Based on the theoretical work of Bowlby, as a doctoral student, Dr. Crittenden, in concert with Dr. Ainsworth, began the foundational work of the DMM. The classification system appears to address the problem of "D" (e.g. "cannot classify", disorganized) by building out on the "A" and "C" classifications with an "AC" classification indicative of psychopathology. There are several papers and books which are accessible through the various internet booksellers, her papers are available in scholarly journals but some of her papers can be accessed through the Family Relations Institute website and the International Association for the Study of Attachment. Her work appears to have been neglected in the United States until recently. Consider her text, co-authored with Dr. Landini, "Assessing Adult Attachment" (2011, Norton Press). The DMM builds on the work of Bowlby and Ainsworth by incorporating the scientific developments in the cognitive neurosciences and proposes the "maturation", variation and change, of attachment over the lifespan. Drs. Ainsworth and Crittenden, early on (Crittenden and Ainsworth, 1989) in Crittenden's work stated, the classification of "D" (e.g. disorganized or cannot classify) "...if it occurred, would be transient and replaced by a context-adaptive strategies ..." (Crittenden and Landini, 2011).

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There may be some good stuff in here, but this answer is really hard to read! A little formatting (paragraph breaks, bolding important text, separating out citations) would go a long way. –  Krysta Jan 21 at 12:58

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