The Theory of Attachment: A Primer

The Theory of Attachment: A Primer

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4984-0.ch001
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Since the core topic of the book is consumers' attachment to products and brands, a brief but compelling review of attachment theory is needed to give the readers the theoretical tools necessary to properly understand how the theory has been applied in marketing studies. The chapter strongly relies on the “classics” of attachment theory, from the pioneering contribution by John Bowlby (1969) onwards. After a presentation of the main theoretical premises of attachment theory, the chapter specifies the concept of attachment style with specific regard to attachment in adulthood and reviews the main measurement scales and other methodologies used in the field of psychology to assess individuals' attachment and attachment style.
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Although this book focuses on the theoretical developments, empirical applications, and managerial insights of attachment in consumer behavior, a brief overview of what attachment is, its theoretical foundations, its operationalization, and its measurement, is of paramount importance. Accordingly, this chapter’s main purpose is to enable its readers to grasp the theoretical background of attachment theory and the attachment construct. This will help them understand its theoretical and practical applications to both marketing research and practice.

Defining attachment is especially useful for understanding how attachment has been applied as a psychometric construct used (also) in marketing research. It also serves to explain why specific antecedents and outcomes have been hypothesized to be connected with attachment (no matter whether the target is a product or a brand) in empirical studies.

Several targets of attachment have been more or less intensely investigated in consumer research: they include brands (e.g. Park et al., 2008), products (e.g. Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim, 2008), places (e.g. Low and Altman, 2002), special possessions (e.g. Ball and Tasaki, 1992), experiences (e.g. Arnould and Price, 1993), celebrities (e.g. Thomson, 2006), and even pets (e.g. Hirschman, 1994). While focusing on different targets, all these studies are characterized by a common conceptualization of what attachment is and by a shared perspective on how attachment can or should be framed.

Thus, although the provision of a complete overview of the theory of attachment would fall outside the scope of this book (see Cassidy and Shaver, 2008 for a review), a primer on attachment theory is unavoidable.

With no pretention to providing a compelling review of the theory of attachment – and with the intellectual honesty to admit that the enormous amount of empirical works on attachment signifies that this chapter is incomplete and does not exhaustively represent the theoretical and empirical debate on attachment – three aims are pursued in what follows.

The first aim is to provide a definition of attachment and an overview of attachment theory, including identification of its main theoretical underpinnings. To this end, I shall sketch the historical evolution of attachment studies that culminated in the formulation of what is currently known, and unanimously accepted, as the theory of attachment (or attachment theory). Starting from ethology and moving through psychology and psychoanalysis, this primer is especially focused on the contribution to the advancement of attachment studies by John Bowlby, who is recognized as the most prominent scholar in attachment research and the proponent of attachment theory.

The second aim is to introduce the notion of “attachment style” (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Hazan and Shaver, 1987); a concept widely used in attachment studies also in consumer research (especially in consumer psychology). The concept of attachment style has been developed to provide a categorical model of classification with which to distinguish behavioral reactions stemming from a high/low degree of attachment and to evaluate relational disturbances in people who have had different attachment experiences (both during infancy and during adulthood). Thus, being aimed at classify individuals in homogeneous groups, attachment style has often been used as a valuable – and uncommon – variable with which to segment actual and prospect consumers.

The third aim is to provide a brief review of the main methods with which attachment and attachment style can be measured by paying particular attention to self-reported measures obtained through individuals’ responses to psychometric scales. In particular, I will review the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) (George et al., 1984; Main et al., 1985); the Experience in Close Relationships Questionnaire (ECR) Brennan et al. (1998) and the Experience in Close Relationships Questionnaire Revised (ECR-R); the Adult Attachment Scale (AAS) (Collins and Read, 1990) and its revised version, i.e. the Revised Adult Attachment Scale (RAAS) (Collins, 1996); and Bartholomew and Horowitz’s (1991) Prototypic descriptions of attachment styles.

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