Adult Attachment and the Perception of Emotional Expressions: Probing the Hyperactivating Strategies Underlying Anxious Attachment

Publication Date

August 2006


The Journal of Personality is published by Wiley Blackwell,


According to adult attachment theory, individual differences in attachment-related anxiety reflect variation in individuals’ vigilance to cues relevant to appraising and monitoring the availability and responsiveness of significant others. To investigate this assumption, the authors adopted a morph movie paradigm in which participants were shown movies of faces in which an emotional facial expression changed gradually to a neutral one (Study 1) or a neutral expression changed to an emotional one (Studies 2–4). Participants were asked to judge the point at which the emotional expression had disappeared or emerged, respectively. Individuals who were highly anxious with respect to attachment were more likely to perceive the offset (Study 1) as well as the onset (Studies 2 and 3) of the facial expressions of emotion earlier than other people. Moreover, this heightened state of vigilance may have led to poorer accuracy in judging facial expressions of emotion (Study 3), an effect that was reversed when anxious individuals were required to watch the movies for the same length of time as less anxious participants (Study 4). The results indicate that variation in attachment anxiety reflects, in part, differences in vigilance to cues of social and emotional significance.


Psychology | Social Psychology