Date of Award

December 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Brittany K. Jakubiak

Second Advisor

Leonard Newman


social support, attachment theory, close relationships, experimental psychology

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


People in close relationships support each other through various means yet support attempts may be unsuccessful. I propose that people prefer support behaviors matched to their dispositional needs (the personal context) and their relationship with the support provider (the interpersonal context). I also propose that this kind of support is most effective at enhancing relationship quality and reducing personal distress. Attachment theory provides a framework for characterizing differences in dispositional needs and in the specific relationship context between a support recipient and support provider. In three studies, I tested whether one’s trait and relationship-specific attachment orientations are associated with preferences for attachment-matched social support (Study 1) and whether attachment-matched social support most effectively buffers distress and promotes relationship quality during an imagined relationship stressor (Study 2) and during a personal stressor (Study 3). Results showed that attachment anxiety is associated with preferences for emotion-laden support that affirms their relationship with a support provider, and attachment avoidance is associated with preferences for pragmatic support that de-emphasizes the emotional significance of stressors. These patterns of support preferences were strongest in reference to support provided by a specific relationship partner compared to support provided by others in general. Although attachment anxiety was not associated with better personal or relationship outcomes after imagining attachment-matched (vs. unmatched) social support, attachment avoidance was associated with enhanced relationship quality after imagining attachment-matched social support. These findings demonstrate that insecurely attached people prefer support matched to their attachment needs, but the effects of attachment-matched social support on personal and relationship outcomes are less consistent.


Open Access



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