Effect of attachment and threat of abandonment on intimacy anger, aggressive behavior, and attributional style

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




D. Bruce Carter


Dating violence, Attachment, Abandonment, Intimacy, Anger, Aggressive, Attributional style

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Gender and Sexuality | Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy


This study evaluated dating violence in college males utilizing attachment theory as a model. According to the theory, cognitive working representations, based on past relationships, account for individual differences in expectations, perceptual biases and interpretations, as well as emotional regulation in current adult relationships. Each of the four attachment patterns (secure, dismissing, preoccupied, and fearful) is thus associated with a different interpersonal profile. This study investigated whether there is an association between males' attachment patterns and (a) their conflict tactics (negotiation, psychological aggression, and physical assault) utilized in intimate relationships, and (b) their emotional/behavioral responses to written scenarios of couple conflict and female threat of abandonment. Results for the conflict tactics indicated that, as predicted, males' attachment scores on the secure subscale were positively correlated with negotiation and negatively correlated with violence. Also, as expected, dismissing scores were not correlated with negotiation or physical assault; however, contrary to expectations, they were positively correlated with psychological aggression. Further, as predicted, preoccupied scores were positively correlated with physical assault, but they unexpectedly were not negatively correlated with negotiation or positively correlated with psychological aggression. Finally, as expected, fearful scores were negatively correlated with negotiation and positively correlated with violence, although physical assault was only a trend. In response to the conflict scenarios, it was predicted that the securely attached males would rate higher on negotiation and lower on anger, violence, and female blame, while the anxiously attached males (preoccupied and fearful) would rate lower on negotiation and higher on all other measures. It was further predicted that the fearfully attached males would have the strongest negative response to the threat of abandonment. Unfortunately, this hypothesis could not be evaluated due to the lack of participants. Generally, results were consistent with attachment theory: (a) securely attached males demonstrated healthy emotional and behavioral responses, (b) dismissing males showed restricted emotion and hostile behavior, and (c) preoccupied males had exaggerated emotionality and dominant behavior. Although there were numerous significant findings, overall results were weak, indicating that attachment theory may not be the best model for explaining dating violence.