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December 15, 2017

Secure or Insecure?

Cover of International Perspectives in Psychology (small)A senior Chinese student approaches a psychology professor explaining that she just completed a self-report attachment style questionnaire and received a high score on one of the insecure attachment subscales. The student is very concerned about her insecure attachment and asks if she needs to see a mental health counselor to see what is going on.

This is a common scenario encountered by many Chinese psychologists or mental health providers. An article recently published in International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation helps shed light on this issue.

In their paper, psychologists Qiwu Sun, Chiachih DC Wang, and Guangrong Jiang argue that the existent self-report adult attachment instruments are based on Western cultural philosophies which may not fully or accurately capture the expressions of various attachment styles in Chinese cultural context, especially the emotional components of attachment working models.

To address this limitation, the authors conducted two studies to answer the following research questions:

  • How Chinese young adults describe or represent the emotional components of their attachment relationships
  • whether the emotional components of adult attachment would predict significant variance in psychosocial functioning of Chinese young adults beyond what is accounted for by attachment constructs measured by Western-based attachment instruments

Using a bottom-up approach, the authors asked Chinese young adult students to describe their feelings associated with their attachment figures in three significant relationships (with Mom, Dad, and a close friend). These emotional adjectives were analyzed and became the building blocks for a new self-report instrument, using the semantic differential scale method.

The authors named the scale Feelings in Significant Relationships Scale (FSRS). The FSRS was subsequently validated by another group of Chinese university students.

The 12 items with the highest factor loadings across the three relationships are almost identical:

Table 1: Factor Loadings and Eigen-Values of the Original Feelings in Significant Relationships Scale
Table 1: Factor Loadings and Eigen-Values of the Original Feelings in Significant Relationships Scale

In the second study, the authors found that FSRS predicted a significant amount of variance of psychosocial functioning above and beyond what was accounted for by the existing Western-based adult attachment and parental attachment scales.

Sun, Wang, and Jiang concluded that FSRS is a culturally sensitive tool that may be used to effectively measure the distinct function of emotional components of adult attachment in Chinese young adults. Furthermore, the authors note that assessing both cognitive and affective aspects of adult attachment provides a more comprehensive understanding of the attachment influences.

The authors caution that, although more convenient, using translated versions of Western-based attachment scales to non-Western populations may lead to misunderstanding or even overpathologizing some of their culturally adaptive behaviors. The authors encourage more effort to develop culturally sensitive attachment tools using the bottom-up approach.

Citation

  • Sun, Q.-W., Wang, C. D. C., & Jiang, G.-R. (2017). Culture-based emotional working models of attachment, Western-based attachment, and psychosocial functioning of Chinese young adults. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 6(4), 195–208. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ipp0000075

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Note: This article is in the Core of Psychology topic area. View more articles in the Core of Psychology topic area.