Adult Avoidant Attachment, Attention Bias, and Emotional Regulation Patterns: An Eye-Tracking Study

Behav Sci (Basel). 2022 Dec 23;13(1):11. doi: 10.3390/bs13010011.


Proximity-seeking in distress situations is one of attachment theory's primary strategies; insecure individuals often also develop secondary strategies. The mechanisms implied in attachment deactivation constitute a key issue in the current debate related to their role in support-seeking. The main aim of this study is to investigate the attachment deactivation strategy and the processes of proximity/support-seeking under distress conditions by analyzing the attentional processes (i.e., an essential emotion-regulation strategy), using eye-tracking techniques. Seventy-two participants (45 female; Mage 23.9 ± 3.97) responded to the ECR-R questionnaire in order to identify their attachment style. They participated in an experimental situation in which they had to choose between pictures of care or pictures of food, following the presentation of threatening or neutral prime conditions (via the pictures' stimuli). Results showed that a care-consistency response pattern was the most frequent pattern of response, particularly under a threatening condition; on the contrary, only avoidant individuals showed a lower care-consistency response pattern by choosing food pictures. The overall findings demonstrate that avoidant individuals used the deactivation strategy to process comfort-related attachment pictures, suggesting that they considered these stimuli to be threatening. The implications for attachment theory and particularly for avoidant strategies are discussed.

Keywords: attachment representation; avoidant attachment strategies; emotional development; eye movement; eye-tracker; lifespan development.

Grants and funding

This research received a fund (2019) from University of Sassari.