PARTNER INFLUENCE, ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT, AND HEALTH HABIT CHANGES IN ROMANTIC COUPLES 1,
Abstract This study examines attachment style as a moderator between partner influence and health habits. Forty-one heterosexual couples reported on attachment, their partner’s influence attempts, and changes in diet since beginning to cohabit. Results suggested that healthy changes in diet are predicted by high negative influence for low anxious attachment men and women. These results contradict our original hypothesis, suggested by most literature on attachment, that a person with high anxious attachment (as opposed to low) will be more influenced by a partner to change eating habits in order to avoid conflict and protect the relationship. Our results suggest that although some partners of anxious individuals may demean their partners in hopes to get them to be healthier, this negative influence may discourage high anxious individuals, rather than motivate them. In contrast, more secure individuals may be able to tolerate negative influence if it is intended to increase healthy behavior.
Felicia Zerwas Emily A. Butler Ashley K. Randall 1 2 University of Arizona Arizona State University
Results H1: High avoidant individuals are less likely to change their health habits when receiving partner influence than low avoidant individuals. Rejected - No significant interactions found. H2: High anxious individuals are more likely to change their health habits when receiving partner influence than low anxious individuals. Rejected – Opposite pattern of results found. Health changes by influence by anxious attachment interaction: marginally significant for women (p=.080) and significant for men (p=.030). (Red line) - When women/men reported low anxiety, negative influence predicted health change increases. (Blue line) - When women/men reported high anxiety, negative influence was unrelated to health changes.
Background Attachment style plays a critical role in close relationships and may influence the likelihood of individuals changing their health habits when receiving partner influence. People who display anxious attachment feel like they are not able to get as close to their partner as they would like, whereas avoidant individuals have a hard time allowing their partners to get close to them (Simpson, 1990). Since anxious individuals are more willing to cooperate with their partners, it is logical to expect them to change their health habits if their partner sees it as a problem. Conversely, avoidant individuals are less likely to respond to the influence of their partner, because they will want to stay in control of their lifestyle. (H1) High avoidant individuals are less likely to change their health habits when receiving negative partner influence than low anxious individuals. (H2) High anxious individuals are more likely to change their health habits when receiving negative partner influence than low anxious individuals.
Methods Participants 41 heterosexual couples. Age ranged from 18 to 53 yrs old (M= 24.3, SD= 6.6); Relationship duration ranged from 5 mo to 5.8 yrs (M= 2.0 yrs, SD= 16.1). Procedure Couples completed a baseline questionnaire. Measures Attachment The ERC-36 questionnaire includes avoidant items [Just when my partner starts to get close to me I find myself pulling away] and anxious items[I worry a fair amount about losing my partner]. Partner Influence: The partner influence questionnaire included eight items that asked individuals to report how much their partners uses certain influence strategies [my partner tried to make me feel guilty] (Lewis & Rook, 1999). Health Habit Changes: The questionnaire consisted of 45 food/drink items that measured how much unhealthy/healthy food was eaten before and after the start of the individual’s relationship (Thomson et. al, 2002).
Conclusions and Implications Interestingly, findings from the present study suggest that high anxious individuals are less likely to change health habits when receiving negative influence. It is plausible that a high anxious individual may begin to panic and not even be comprehending what their partners are telling them when they are subjected to negative influence. High anxious individuals may only be focused on the fact that their partner is not satisfied with the relationship, so they are unable to respond to the specific goal of the partner’s influence attempts. In contrast, more secure individuals may be able to tolerate negative influence if it is intended to increase healthy behavior, because they do not panic as much when their partner is unsatisfied.
Acknowledgements The authors thank Jesi Post, Rebecca Reed, Shannon Corkery, Morgan Kelly, and Valerie Young for their roles in data management, collection and cleaning. The authors acknowledge funding from the National Institute of Health, Grant # 1R21HL109746-01A1. A PDF version of this academic poster is available at: http://mcclellandinstitute.arizona.edu/posters.