Insecure attachment as a predictor of depressive and anxious symptomology

Depress Anxiety. 2012 Sep;29(9):789-96. doi: 10.1002/da.21953. Epub 2012 Apr 13.


Background: Most studies have shown that insecure attachment and stress are important risk factors in the development of depression and anxiety. However, it is unclear whether distinct patterns of insecure attachment may relate differently to depression and anxiety following stressful events. Thus, the current study examined whether anxious and avoidant attachment, both of which are operationalized as insecure attachment, predict depressive and anxious symptoms following the occurrence of hassles.

Method: A sample of 662 Chinese university students was recruited from Hunan, China. At the initial assessment, participants completed self-report measures assessing insecure attachment (i.e. anxious and avoidant attachment), hassles, anxious symptoms, and depressive symptoms. Additionally, hassles and symptoms of anxiety and depression were assessed once a month for the subsequent 6 months.

Results: The results of hierarchical linear modeling analyses indicated a significant interaction between anxious attachment and hassles in predicting follow-up depressive symptoms. Specifically, participants with high levels of anxious, but not avoidant, attachment reported high levels of depressive symptoms when experiencing high, as opposed to low, levels of hassles. At the same time, while both anxious and avoidant attachment predicted higher levels of anxious symptoms over time, a cross-level, significant interaction did not emerge.

Conclusions: Insecure attachment styles serve as a vulnerability factor in the development of depressive and anxious symptoms in Chinese young adults. Consequently, fostering the development of secure attachment in prevention and intervention programs may, ultimately, prevent the onset and maintenance of depressive and anxious disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / etiology*
  • China
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Object Attachment*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult