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Psychol Bull. 2011 Jan;137(1):19-46. doi: 10.1037/a0021367.

Attachment and the processing of social information across the life span: theory and evidence.

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Department of Psychology, State University of New York, Oswego, NY 13126, USA.


Researchers have used J. Bowlby's (1969/1982, 1973, 1980, 1988) attachment theory frequently as a basis for examining whether experiences in close personal relationships relate to the processing of social information across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. We present an integrative life-span-encompassing theoretical model to explain the patterns of results that have emerged from these studies. The central proposition is that individuals who possess secure experience-based internal working models of attachment will process--in a relatively open manner--a broad range of positive and negative attachment-relevant social information. Moreover, secure individuals will draw on their positive attachment-related knowledge to process this information in a positively biased schematic way. In contrast, individuals who possess insecure internal working models of attachment will process attachment-relevant social information in one of two ways, depending on whether the information could cause the individual psychological pain. If processing the information is likely to lead to psychological pain, insecure individuals will defensively exclude this information from further processing. If, however, the information is unlikely to lead to psychological pain, then insecure individuals will process this information in a negatively biased schematic fashion that is congruent with their negative attachment-related experiences. In a comprehensive literature review, we describe studies that illustrate these patterns of attachment-related information processing from childhood to adulthood. This review focuses on studies that have examined specific components (e.g., attention and memory) and broader aspects (e.g., attributions) of social information processing. We also provide general conclusions and suggestions for future research.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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