Attachment anxiety heightens aversion toward pattern deviancy, according to new psychology research

Anxieties about one’s close relationships are associated with aversion towards pattern deviancy, according to new research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

“I’ve always been fascinated with objects, experiences, and situations that are irregular, abnormal, and break the pattern of what we are used to. I’ve consistently found that people tend to feel negatively about such ‘deviant’ stimuli. The obvious next question was to ask where these negative attitudes towards deviancy come from,” explained study author Anton Gollwitzer, a PhD Candidate at Yale University.

Two initial surveys of 239 participants found a link between attachment anxiety and aversion toward pattern deviancy. People who agreed with statements such as “My desire to be very close sometimes scares people away” and “I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me” tended to also say that broken patterns of geometric shapes made them feel uncomfortable, anxious, or annoyed.

The researchers then conducted an experiment with another 333 individuals, which found that participants who were asked to recall a relationship where they felt anxiously attached tended to have heightened aversion towards broken geometric patterns compared to participants who were asked to recall a relationship where they felt comfortable and secure.

A second experiment with 501 participants replicated the findings with a different measure of pattern deviancy aversion. Instead of being asked to evaluate patterns of geometric shapes, the participants were simply asked how they felt “about things that break a pattern, are out of line, and are disordered.”

“Anxiety in terms of our social relationships can have a far-reaching impact on our lives, including nonsocial outcomes. Although we tend to think of our social and nonsocial attitudes as independent, our social experiences can actually alter the way we more generally approach objects, experiences, and situations,” Gollwitzer told PsyPost.

Future research could address why the association between attachment anxiety and aversion toward pattern deviancy exists.

“Is the link between anxious attachment and disliking broken patterns functional in some way? For instance, do unstable social relationships serve as a signal for dangerous irregularities in the environment? If true, then anxious attachment may heighten people’s dislike of broken patterns to help them avoid these harmful irregularities,” Gollwitzer said.

The study, “Anxious Attachment as an Antecedent of People’s Aversion Towards Pattern Deviancy“, was authored by Anton Gollwitzer and Margaret S. Clark.