Can attachment style be a predictor of aggression? A study published in BMC Psychology suggests that fearful and dismissive attachment styles can be related to more anger, higher levels of hostility, and an increase in aggression.
The quality of parenting a child receives can be profound effects on them throughout the lifespan. Attachment styles, which are predominantly formed in childhood, can be related to emotional regulation, self-control, and coping skills. Generally, there are four attachment styles that are widely accepted: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.
Secure attachment style is thought to be formed from a child’s needs being consistently met by their caregiver, while the other insecure attachments are formed by less stable parent-child dynamics. Past research has suggested that insecure attachment is linked to higher levels of aggression and hostility. This study seeks to expand on these results.
“While researchers have found a link between insecure attachment and anger expression and the fact that adolescents react to a perceived threat in several ways, including anger, aggression, and hostility, little is known about how these reactions can be interpreted based on the different attachment types, which may suggest different approaches for better control or regulation of anger,” wrote study author Elise Maalouf and colleagues
The researchers utilized 1810 Lebanese high school students from 16 different high schools to serve as their sample. Data was collected between January and May of 2019. The survey was self-administered in the high schools to avoid parent influence and took approximately an hour to complete. Physical activity during leisure time was measured. Additionally, participants answered measures on demographic information, attachment, and aggression.
Results showed that participants who displayed a secure attachment style scored lower on anger expression. This is consistent with previous research showing that youths who can communicate effectively with parents are less likely to display aggressive behavior. Additionally, results showed participants with insecure attachment displayed higher levels of both physical and verbal aggression.
Fearful-avoidant attachment in particular was a significant predictor of anger, while preoccupied attachment was related to high levels of hostility. Hostility was also related to age, in that an inverse relationship exists. Hostility decreases as children mature. Participants with higher levels of physical activity also showed higher levels of anger expression, despite the popular belief that exercise helps mood.
“The results emphasized the need for future studies to give further insights into whether anger management interventions should concentrate on creating constructive attachment models rather than solely relying on anger control techniques,” the researchers concluded. “However, the attachment style is a personal characteristic that appears to linger throughout life and may be difficult to alter. It might also be more efficient to emphasize potentially modifiable factors other than physical activity already assessed in this study, such as psychosocial constructs, the critical components in shaping people’s traits, as a way to extend the chances of anger management.”
The study, “Attachment styles and their association with aggression, hostility, and anger in Lebanese adolescents: a national study“, Elise Maalouf, Pascale Salameh, Chadia Haddad, Hala Sacre, Souheil Hallit, and Sahar Obeid.