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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2001 Dec;81(6):1205-24.

Attachment theory and reactions to others' needs:' evidence that activation of the sense of attachment security promotes empathic responses.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel.


Five studies examined the effects of chronic and contextual activation of attachment security on reactions to others' needs. The sense of attachment security was contextually primed by asking participants to recollect personal memories, read a story, or look at a picture of supportive others or by subliminally exposing them to proximity-related words. This condition was compared against the priming of neutral themes, positive affect, or attachment-insecurity schemas. Then reports of empathy and personal distress or the accessibility of empathy and personal-distress memories were assessed. Attachment-security priming strengthened empathic reactions and inhibited personal distress. Self-reports of attachment anxiety and avoidance were inversely related to empathy, and attachment anxiety was positively related to personal distress. The discussion emphasizes the relevance of attachment theory for explaining reactions to others' needs.

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