Adult Attachment Patterns: A Test of the Typological Model

R. Chris Fraley and Niels G. Waller


Fraley, R. C., & Waller, N. G. (1998). Adult attachment patterns: A test of the typological model. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 77-114). New York: Guilford Press

Contact Information

For a reprint, please contact R. Chris Fraley, Department of Psychology (MC 285) 1007 W. Harrison St. University of Illinois Chicago, IL 60607-7137 [e-mail]

Although attachment researchers have favored typological models when assessing individual differences in infant and adult attachment patterns (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991; George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Sroufe & Waters, 1977), they have devoted little attention to assessing the validity of the typological approach. When typological models are valid they provide information that cannot be obtained from dimensional models, such as group membership probabilities, latent base rates of types, and indicator specificity and sensitivity rates (Meehl, 1995). When they are not valid, however, unfortunate problems can arise that serve to undermine the research enterprise--such as reductions in statistical power (Cohen, 1988), decreases in scale reliability (Cohen, 1983), the spurious overestimation (Maxwell & Delaney, 1993) and underestimation (Cohen, 1983) of empirical relationships, and the inability to uncover nonlinear relationships with other variables (Tellegen & Lubinski, 1983). . . . Because attachment theory has the potential to integrate a diverse set of findings in the fields of close relationships and personality (see Hazan & Shaver, 1994), it is important to ensure that the measurement models used by adult attachment researchers are as powerful as possible. Therefore, the primary goal of the present chapter is to determine whether adult attachment patterns are more indicative of latent types or latent dimensions. To achieve this goal, we analyze attachment data from a large sample (N = 639) of young adults using several taxometric procedures (MAMBAC and MAXCOV-HITMAX) that were developed by Paul Meehl and his colleagues (Meehl, 1995; Meehl & Golden, 1982; Meehl & Yonce, 1994; Waller & Meehl, 1997). In doing so, we hope to resolve the types versus dimensions debate in adult attachment research and provide recommendations for both the conceptualization and measurement of adult attachment. We begin the chapter by reviewing the status of typological approaches in attachment research and in psychological research more broadly. Next, we review procedures that have traditionally been used to validate categorical models in the social sciences and we discuss limitations of these approaches for corroborating typological or dimensional models. As an alternative to these procedures, we describe taxometric techniques for distinguishing latent types (classes, natural kinds, taxa) from latent continua (dimensions, factors). Next, we review arguments for the taxonic and dimensional models of attachment security. Because both models can be theoretically justified, we apply our taxometric procedures to a large sample of adult attachment data to determine which approach is best supported by the data. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings for advancing knowledge on adult attachment phenomena.

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