Anxious and avoidant attachment styles are negatively related to indicators of evolutionary fitness

Recent research challenges the notion that insecure attachment has some evolutionary adaptive benefits. It appears that secure attachment can benefit individuals, improving their chances of having offspring, while anxious and avoidant attachment styles reduce their chances of having offspring. The new findings appear in the journal Evolutionary psychology.

Attachment styles, which refer to the way individuals form and maintain relationships throughout life, are regularly explained through an evolutionary lens. Yet, despite this widespread conceptualization of attachment styles from an evolutionary point of view, empirical investigations of their direct associations with fitness are sparse.

“Attachment, both the affective relationship between a child and a caregiver and romantic attachment – between the mating partners, is one of the major topics in psychology. It is studied in developmental, social psychology, but also in the psychology of individual differences,” explained study author Janko Međedović , a senior researcher at the Institute of Criminological and Sociological Research in Belgrade.

“Because of the fact that the processes similar to attachment exist in many species, psychologists often argue that attachment is a multi-functional evolutionary adaptation – enabling care for babies and children (thereby facilitating survival) and later in life enabling successful mating (and thus facilitating reproduction). ).Therefore, secure attachment, both to caregivers and in a romantic context, is mostly considered to be adaptive.”

“But there are individual differences in attachment – individuals who are insecure show anxious or avoidant attachment behavior (some authors believe that there are other types of insecure attachment, but we used this model in our current research),” Međedović told PsyPost. “Despite clear maladaptive behavioral consequences of insecure attachment, there are researchers who may even produce some adaptive outcomes.”

“Interestingly, the research that directly tests these opposing hypotheses is extremely rare. Therefore, we conducted the study in which we examined the associations between anxious and avoidant romantic attachment styles (the opposite pole of these dimensions represents secure attachment) and various indicators of evolutionary fitness.”

The researcher surveyed a sample of 448 Serbian adults (mean age 41.67) regarding romantic attachment, short- and long-term mating patterns, motivations favoring parenthood, perceived obstacles to becoming parents, reproductive success (age at first birth, number of children, and grandchildren) , and care for biological relatives. They found that anxious and avoidant attachment were negatively associated with many of these exercise-related outcomes.

“We obtained systemic negative associations between insecure attachment (especially avoidance) and exercise measures. Therefore, our data are congruent with the previous hypothesis: secure attachment has adaptive function,” said Međedović.

“Our data are interesting because they show the role of attachment in mating, family planning, observed family size and parental care. Individuals who are securely attached to their romantic mates have longer partner relationships, higher parental motivation, they tend to have more offspring and increased parental care . People who are clingy to their partners or afraid that their partners will leave them (anxious) along with those who are not emotionally committed to their partners with limited intimacy (avoidant) have the opposite pattern of outcomes.”

“Does this mean that evolution favors long-term mating, because it is related to both higher fertility and increased parental care? Maybe not in all ecological conditions, but this certainly seems like an interesting hypothesis,” Međedović told PsyPost.

The findings are in line with previous research, which has found that the duration of a person’s longest romantic relationship is positively related to parental investment and the number of offspring. But as with any study, the new research includes some caveats.

– The study sample was not representative, therefore we cannot draw conclusions about natural selection. In addition, the number of participants with grandchildren was quite low – this could just as well be solved with larger and representative samples, explained Međedović.

“If positive relationships between secure attachment and reproductive success would also be obtained in representative samples, it could mean that secure attachment is under positive directional selection and that it can evolve continuously. However, this rests on future studies that will collect data on large and representative sample.”

“Ideally, the studies of this type should be prospective in nature: attachment should be assessed earlier in time, while the training results should be measured later,” said Međedović. “This is the only way to draw conclusions about causality and, consequently – about natural selection. Finally, the investigated links may be influenced by culture, therefore the data should be collected in different cultures, including the non-WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) countries.”

The study, “Fitness Costs of Insecure Romantic Attachment: The Role of Reproductive Motivation and Long-Term Mating”, was written by Janko Međedović, Ana Anđelković and Jovana Lukić.

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