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Unformatted text preview: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2001, Vol. 81. No. 6. 1205-1224 Copyright 2001 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. O022-3514/01/S5.OO DOI: 10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1245 Attachment Theory and Reactions to Others' Needs: Evidence That Activation of the Sense of Attachment Security Promotes Empathic Responses Mario Mikulincer, Omri Gillath, Vered Halevy, Neta Avihou, Shelly Avidan, and Nitzan Eshkoli Bar-Ilan University Five studies examined the effects of chronic and contextual activation of attachment security on reactions to others' needs. The sense of attachment security was contextually primed by asking participants to recollect personal memories, read a story, or look at a picture of supportive others or by subliminally exposing them to proximity-related words. This condition was compared against the priming of neutral themes, positive affect, or attachment-insecurity schemas. Then reports of empathy and personal distress or the accessibility of empathy and personal-distress memories were assessed. Attachment-security priming strengthened empathic reactions and inhibited personal distress. Self-reports of attachment anxiety and avoidance were inversely related to empathy, and attachment anxiety was positively related to personal distress. The discussion emphasizes the relevance of attachment theory for explaining reactions to others' needs. Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973) is viewed as a valid conceptual framework for explaining one's reactions to others' needs. In support of this view, recent studies have shown that the sense of attachment security—expectations that others would be supportive in times of need—seems to contribute to the provision of support to a needy person (e.g., Collins & Feeney, 2000). However, all these studies are correlational in nature and have not provided any evidence on the causal effects of attachment security on reactions to others' needs. Moreover, most of them have ex- clusively focused on caregiving behaviors within close relation- ships and have not distinguished between altruistic and egoistic sources of these behaviors. In fact, these studies have ignored Batson's (1991) empathy-distress distinction, with empathy re- flecting altruistic other-oriented responses and personal distress reflecting a more egoistic self-focused response. The current stud- ies attempt to fill in these gaps and to examine the effects of the activation of attachment security on empathy and distress reactions to the plight of nonintimate persons. Attachment Theory and Reactions to Others' Needs According to Bowlby's theory (1969, 1973), the reactions of significant others to one's own needs in times of stress has crucial implications for mental health, affect regulation, and interpersonal relations. In Bowlby's (1973) view, interactions with significant others who are available and responsive to one's needs promote the formation of a sense of attachment security. This sense of attachment security includes positive representations ("working...
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This note was uploaded on 10/28/2009 for the course HD 2610 taught by Professor Mikels,j. during the Fall '07 term at Cornell.
- Fall '07