Background: Preoccupied and fearful attachment have both been associated with depressive symptoms, but it is unclear which attachment style is primarily associated with major depression. While preoccupied attachment denotes a focus on relationships as a source of self-validation, fearful attachment involves an avoidance of relationships for fear of rejection. Present research aims to investigate the relative influence of fearful and preoccupied attachments on self-reported depressive symptoms within both a student and a clinical sample and to examine these associations separately for male and female participants.
Sampling and methods: All participants completed the Relationship Questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory. Study 1 assessed attachment ratings and self-reported severity of depression for 71 patients diagnosed with major depression. Study 2 similarly assessed 245 university students, and study 3 compared attachment ratings of the two samples.
Results: Both Pearson correlations and partial correlations were examined for both samples. Fearful attachment was associated with self-reported depression severity for females with depression, but attachment styles were unrelated to depression severity for males with depression (study 1). For female university students, both fearful and preoccupied attachment styles were significantly related to depression severity, but again there were no associations for male university students when partial correlations were utilised (study 2). Study 3 revealed significantly higher levels of fearful attachment for women with depression compared with female university students and no significant differences for males overall.
Conclusions: For females, the avoidance of intimacy for fear of rejection was associated with a broad spectrum of depressive symptoms. Results highlight gender differences in depressive experiences, and have implications for research into the effects of fearful attachment on social support and the therapeutic alliance. Limitations to this study include the reliance on self-report measures of attachment and depression severity, the small number of male participants in the clinical sample, and the use of a cross-sectional rather than longitudinal design.