Attachment Types and Technology
Welcome to part 3!
If you missed it, read part 1 titled See Attached: Adult Attachment and Technology, and part 2 titled Attachment and Technology: For Clinicians.
To start off, a major proponent of Adult Attachment Theory is the idea that when our systems are activated we use different attachment lenses. The different types are secure, avoidant/dismissive, anxious/pre-occupied, and disorganized/unresolved. These are generally based on how our caregivers responded to us when we were distressed.
Let’s get into what the research says about different attachment types and use of technology. However, it’s important to note that some researchers did not clarify the difference between internet use for social or non-social purposes.
Avoidant oriented people:
- Are less likely to call or text romantic partners
- Make less call in general
- Are less likely to prefer face to face communication
- Prefer to use email
- Perceive face to face communication as less intimate than texting or email (1, 8)
While anxiously attached people:
- Use their phones more during breakups
- Are more likely to be reliant on their phones
- Use Facebook more to seek comfort, evaluate concern, and regulate mood
- Rate technology as intimacy enhancing and reducing
- Are more jealous of Facebook interactions
- Use multiple methods of communication
- Prefer text and email over face to face communication
- Exhibit protest behavior, for example calling someone several times in a row
- May pay close attention to how long it takes someone to return their call and wait just as long to return theirs (2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9)
What does this mean?
Let’s digest some of the potentially surprising data noted here. For example, social contact online is instant gratification access to easing attachment anxiety. As a result, this gratification in turn reinforces the cycle of engaging online socially. Bowlby believed that “proximity seeking” was a huge strategy for connection. Subsequently, engaging online can be seen as a modern proximity seeking behavior. (5) So, trying to connect – whether online or offline- is a sign of security in this way.
One explanation of why avoidant oriented folks view in-person communication as less intimate is that managing stress could be harder. Thus, the outcome of an argument may seem unresolved or unproductive if done in person. (8) Avoidant folks may prefer online interactions because it can serve as an unconscious escape route. That is to say, if things aren’t going well in conversation you can simply hang up or sign off.
One more important consideration:
What further complicates these patterns is when you introduce the idea of abuse online. This can take forms such as bullying, trolling, stalking, or violation of electronic visibility management. Moreover, cyber-bullying can cause people to avoid online interactions or stay online to constantly check notifications in a hyper-vigilant state.
So, considering the formation of memories while online in explicit and implicit ways is important. Certainly part of every therapist’s dialogue with clients will be how our attachment systems are shaped by online interactions. If you’d like, reflect on your own work in the counseling room to see where this topic has already come up.
Congratulations on finishing this 3 part series on attachment and technology!
If you find yourself hungry for more knowledge or just want to have a space where you can discuss more of these topics in detail, stay tuned for a workshop I will be co-facilitating with Elizabeth Buckley, LPC-Intern & LMFT-A.
- Jin and Pena (2010) Mobile communication in romantic relationships: Mobile phone use, relational uncertainty, love, commitment, and attachment styles.
- Wisskirch and Delevi (2012) Its ovr b/n u n me: Technology use, attachment styles, and gender roles in relationship dissolution
- Hibbard (2015) The relationship of attachment styles and self-control on cell phone reliance.
- Oldmeadow et al (2013) Attachment style, social skills, and Facebook use amongst adults.
- Pomerantz (2013) Attachment and Delayed Gratification in the Technological Age.
- Off (2016) Communication technology use and perceptions in romantic relationships: the role of attachment.
- Marshall et al (2013) Attachment styles as predictors of Facebook-related jealousy and surveillance in romantic relationships.
- Wardecker, Chopik, Boyer, and Edelstein (2016) Individual differences in attachment are associated with usage and perceived intimacy of different communication media.
- Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find- and keep- love. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
I’m available for counseling in south Austin, contact me here for a free 30-minute in-person consultation.
Julia Stamman, LPC
Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.