New research published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that people can accurately perceive a potential partner’s attachment anxiety during a brief speed dating encounter. But this does not appear to be the case for attachment avoidance. The findings also indicate that people use their perceptions of a date’s attachment style to make decisions about whether or not they are interested in forming a romantic relationship with them.
Individuals with attachment anxiety frequently worry about being rejected or abandoned. In contrast, those with attachment avoidance tend to be more independent and self-reliant, and they may have difficulty trusting others. Research has demonstrated that both styles of attachment can lead to negative outcomes in relationships, such as conflict, communication problems, and difficulties with intimacy.
However, it was unclear if people could accurately perceived potential partners’ attachment styles during initial encounters. The authors behind the new study set out to answer this question.
“Broadly speaking, I’m interested in the processes involved in the initiation and maintenance of romantic relationships,” said study author Eric Tu, a PhD student in the Social and Personality Psychology program at York University. “That is, what information do we use when deciding who to pursue a romantic relationship with and whether these early relationship decisions are predictive of later relationship quality.”
“Attachment orientations are a persistent individual difference that can influence our relationship dynamics in established romantic relationships, which made me wonder if attachment styles are important in established relationships, do we pay attention to cues of a potential partner’s attachment style when deciding whether we are romantically interested in them?”
For their study, the researchers recruited participants from eight speed-dating events at an annual anime convention in Toronto. During the events, each participant went on 13 speed dates (about 3 minutes long) with members of the opposite sex. The researchers ended up with a final sample of 74 women and 90 men, and data from 1,869 speed dates. (The participants were about 20 years old on average.)
Prior to the speed dating event, participants completed a baseline survey known as the the Experiences in Close Relationships-Short Form to measure their attachment anxiety and avoidance. After each speed date, the participants indicated whether they believed their speed-dating partner would be “insecure and needy” and/or “uncomfortable with closeness” in a romantic relationship.
The researchers found that the participants accurately perceived the attachment anxiety of their speed-dating partners, but not their attachment avoidance.
“In a dating context, people seem to be able to accurately perceive a potential partner’s attachment anxiety, and being accurate of a potential partner’s high attachment anxiety is linked to less dating interest,” Tu told PsyPost. “Overall, regardless of accuracy or a potential partner’s actual attachment style, perceiving a potential partner as insecurely attached was associated with less dating interest.”
Surprisingly, the researchers also found that dates higher in attachment anxiety tended to be perceived as higher in attachment avoidance as well. “It is possible that people high in attachment anxiety may use strategies that present as avoidantly attached (e.g., acting disinterested) when trying to mask their cues of attachment anxiety,” the researchers said. “This effect was not predicted and should be replicated to determine if it is a robust effect.”
It is also currently unclear how people are able to detect attachment anxiety in a potential partner. “Beyond our current work, future work can investigate the behaviors people engage in during their initial interactions to better understand what cues are people picking up on during these interactions, whether these map onto certain judgments of potential date’s character, and how these behaviors can predict dating interest,” Tu told PsyPost.
The study, “Is my attachment style showing? Perceptions of a date’s attachment anxiety and avoidance and dating interest during a speed-dating event“, was authored by Eric Tu, Jessica A. Maxwell, James J. Kim, Diana Peragine, Emily A. Impett, and Amy Muise.