The Attachment Theory Explanation

People enter into parasocial relationships because they lack something in their own lives. What exactly might a person lack that causes them to enter into unilateral, unrequited relationships? Here we will explore the Attachment theory explanation for parasocial relationships. 

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The Attachment Theory Explanation The Attachment Theory Explanation

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What does attachment theory suggest about parasocial relationships?

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What did Cole and Leets (1999) find in their study?

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Kienlen et al. (1997) found that ______ childhood attachment was linked to a borderline pathological disorder 


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What's an issue with the correlational research into parasocial relationships?

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What did Roberts (2007) find in their study?

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What does Bowlby specifically suggest about childhood attachment and parasocial relationships?

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Why would children form a parasocial relationship with a celebrity when they grow up, according to attachment theory?

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What is Ainsworth's insecure-resistant type of attachment style?

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What did Hazan and Shaver (1987) suggest about how an insecure-resistant attachment style in adulthood?


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Bowlby's ______ deprivation theory suggests that those who do not form strong attachments in early life will seek out attachment substitutes in adulthood.  

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What does the internal working model state about future relationships?

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What does attachment theory suggest about parasocial relationships?

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What did Cole and Leets (1999) find in their study?

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  • Mo

Kienlen et al. (1997) found that ______ childhood attachment was linked to a borderline pathological disorder 


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  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What's an issue with the correlational research into parasocial relationships?

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What did Roberts (2007) find in their study?

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What does Bowlby specifically suggest about childhood attachment and parasocial relationships?

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Why would children form a parasocial relationship with a celebrity when they grow up, according to attachment theory?

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What is Ainsworth's insecure-resistant type of attachment style?

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What did Hazan and Shaver (1987) suggest about how an insecure-resistant attachment style in adulthood?


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Bowlby's ______ deprivation theory suggests that those who do not form strong attachments in early life will seek out attachment substitutes in adulthood.  

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What does the internal working model state about future relationships?

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Table of contents
    • We are going to explore attachment theory in the context of parasocial relationships. First, we will briefly look at attachment theory in psychology.
    • Then we will explore attachment theory in relationships, relating this to the development of parasocial relationships.
    • After, we will examine Bowlby's attachment theory with a brief explanation.
    • Next, we will discuss the various attachment theory explanations for parasocial relationships.
    • Finally, we will give an attachment theory explanation of parasocial relationship evaluation.

    The Attachment Theory Explanation, a photo of a mother with dark hair feeding a toddler sat in a wooden high chair, with only a clear focus on the woman's hand holding a small orange jar, StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - Attachment theory explores how secure children's attachments to their caregivers are.

    Attachment Theory: Psychology

    Theories centred around attachment developed from the ideas put forwards by Bowlby. In the context of attachment and parasocial relationships, we can explore Ainsworth’s (1970) attachment types to clarify the different forms of attachment discussed. There are three types of attachment:

    • Secure attachment: A child shows signs of distress without a primary caregiver and when alone with strangers. They are comforted and explore when they return.
    • Insecure-avoidant attachment: Children are not distressed when their caregiver is absent, with strangers, or when their caregiver returns.
    • Insecure-resistant attachment: Children are fearful when left alone and with strangers, and they resist comfort from their caregiver.

    It is suggested that these attachments we have as infants influence our relationships in adulthood, namely, those who fail to form close attachments in childhood.

    Attachment Theory in Relationships

    Now that we have looked at attachment types, we can explore attachment theory in the context of parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships occur when a person enters a one-sided relationship, usually with a higher-status person unaware of this infatuation, such as a celebrity.

    We can use these types of attachment to explain the formation of parasocial relationships because attachment theorists assume people who form parasocial relationships had difficulty forming attachments early in life.

    In childhood, people with an insecure-resistant attachment type are most likely to enter into a parasocial relationship because they do not risk rejection. They may engage in the clingy behaviour typical of insecure-resistant attachment (e.g., obsessively following every news story about their celebrity crush) without experiencing the pain of rejection.

    According to Hazan and Shaver (1987), an insecure-resistant attachment type manifests itself in adulthood through clingy, jealous behaviour that makes it difficult for them to form relationships with others, meaning they are more likely to form parasocial relationships.

    Insecure-avoidant attachment types avoid intimate relationships, including the parasocial relationships mentioned above.

    Bowlby's Attachment Theory: Brief Explanation

    Bowlby’s (1969, 1988) maternal deprivation theory of attachment can further explain parasocial relationships. In his theory, Bowlby assumes those who do not form strong attachments in early childhood seek attachment substitutes in adulthood. According to Bowlby's theory, parasocial relationships form a comforting substitute for other, scarier seeming relationships.

    Bowlby’s internal working model could be another explanation for parasocial relationships. The internal working model states that your first relationship, the attachment to your primary caregiver, is the baseline for and model for all your future relationships.

    People with secure attachments with responsive and caring parents have normal levels od self-worth, which means they seek similar support and love (platonic or romantic) in their relationships in adulthood.

    If your caregiver did not comfort you, respond to your needs, or provide you with a sense of security, as with insecure-resistant attachments, you may seek out similar relationships in adulthood, as you may feel unworthy.

    A parasocial relationship reflects this attachment type because it is one-sided, and there is less chance of rejection based on feelings of unworthiness.

    Bowlby’s model suggests that, according to attachment theory, parasocial relationships develop because of a lack of close attachments in childhood. People seek attachments to celebrities because they are less likely to be rejected and form insecure attachments.

    Attachment Theory Explanation of Parasocial Relationships

    Bowlby’s attachment theory addresses why parasocial relationships develop, and other psychologists such as McCutcheon (2006) and Kienlen et al. (1997) have also suggested we may find the answer in childhood attachment. According to them, parasocial relationships develop due to developmental problems in childhood.

    Bowlby’s explanation states that people who cannot form close relationships with their caregivers in childhood have difficulty forming attachments and relationships with others as they grow older.

    Children form relationships with celebrities because they did not have close relationships with their parents in childhood, forming an insecure attachment to the celebrity.

    The Attachment Theory Explanation, a woman in blue demin jeans, black high heels and a black jacket is being photographed by a crowd of paparazzi, StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - Parasocial relationships are often formed with celebrities.

    Researchers Giles and Maltby (2006) suggested three levels of intensity to parasocial relationships;

    1. The entertainment-social level involves casually keeping up to date with the goings-on of the celebrity for fun.
    2. Intense-personal level parasocial relationships show a more intense desire towards the celebrity.
    3. The borderline-pathological level is the most intense, where uncontrollable obsessive behaviour towards the celebrity is like an addiction.

    The Absorption-Addiction Model was proposed by McCutcheon (2002) to explain this obsessive behaviour that comes with parasocial relationships. People become absorbed in the lives of figures they admire to find a sense of fulfilment and identity. This excitement and a sense of purpose for keeping up with this admiration can lead to excessive addictive behaviour that becomes risky, such as stalking or harassment.

    Another term for a less intense parasocial relationship is mediated relationship, where no bond is formed between the individual and the celebrity. This is due to not seeking out information about them but simply recognising and the feeling of knowing them through their media, whether that's their work or their interactions online.

    Attachment Theory Explanation of Parasocial Relationships: Evaluation

    As with all psychological theories, there are strengths and weaknesses to the theory of attachment types explaining parasocial relationships.

    Strengths

    Research supports the attachment theory explanation of parasocial relationships, suggesting that insecurely attached children are more likely to form parasocial relationships;

    • Cole and Leets (1999) examined the parasocial relationships developed by teenagers with TV personalities. To do this, they used 115 student participants who completed the parasocial scale and two attachment-style questionnaires. They found that individuals with anxious-ambivalent attachment styles were likelier to develop parasocial relationships, while avoidant styles were least likely to develop parasocial behaviours.
    • Similarly, Roberts (2007) found that individuals with insecure attachments were more likely to have some form of contact with celebrities. This supports the idea that attachment styles influence the development of parasocial relationships.

    Weaknesses

    There are also some weaknesses to using attachment theory to explain parasocial relationships:

    • Conflicting research: McCutcheon et al. (2006) argued that adults with insecure attachment behaviours are more likely to develop parasocial relationships. However, they found no correlation between insecure-resistant attachment and more intense parasocial relationships. This finding contradicts the idea that attachment theory proposed that certain types of childhood experiences and their influence on attachment affect parasocial relationships in adulthood.
    • Correlational research: most research on parasocial relationships is correlational, meaning that we cannot claim a direct cause-and-effect relationship. For example, although Kienlen et al. (1997) found that disrupted attachment in childhood was related to borderline pathological disorder, this was only a correlation and not a direct cause and effect, meaning that we cannot scientifically say that disrupted attachment causes intense parasocial relationships. No single attachment style profile could be correlated with pathological behaviours.

    The Attachment Theory Explanation - Key takeaways

    • Attachment theory states that people with insecure-resistant attachment types are most likely to form parasocial, one-sided relationships.
    • Parasocial relationships are typical with celebrities and well-known or popular people in society, and fictional characters.
    • Attachment theory states parasocial relationships develop due to developmental problems in childhood.
    • Ainsworth’s attachment types explore attachment problems in childhood, with insecure attachment types likely developing parasocial relationships due to the lower chances of rejection.
    • Bowlby’s (1969, 1988) maternal deprivation theory of attachment says that those who do not form strong attachments in early childhood will seek attachment substitutes in adulthood.
    The Attachment Theory Explanation The Attachment Theory Explanation
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    Frequently Asked Questions about The Attachment Theory Explanation

    Briefly evaluate the learning theory explanation of attachment.

    Although there is much research support from Kienlen and Cole, and Leets, much of this research is correlational and cannot prove a causal link. Also, research from McCutcheon showed no correlation between insecure-resistant attachments and parasocial relationships. 

    Describe and evaluate the learning theory explanation of attachment.

    Insecure-avoidant attachment types avoid intimate relationships, including the parasocial relationships. People learn about relationships based on their attachment to their primary caregiver.

    What is attachment theory in simple terms?

    Attachment theory states that your early attachments in childhood can affect your behaviour and relationships in adult life. 

    What is the main idea of attachment theory?

    The main idea of attachment theory is that your early attachments in childhood can affect your behaviour and relationships in adult life.

    Why is the attachment theory important?

    The attachment theory is important because it can help to explain why early life experiences can influence our later behaviour. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Kienlen et al. (1997) found that ______ childhood attachment was linked to a borderline pathological disorder 

    What is Ainsworth's insecure-resistant type of attachment style?

    Bowlby's ______ deprivation theory suggests that those who do not form strong attachments in early life will seek out attachment substitutes in adulthood.  

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