Function of Attachment Hierarchies in Young Adults Experiencing the Transition From University

Elaine Scharfe, Robyn Pitman, Valerie Cole


An important cornerstone of Bowlby’s attachment theory (1969/1997) is the proposal that moving away from parents and toward peers is an indication of healthy development. In this study, we explored the benefit of the shift, not the shift itself, in a sample of emerging adults experiencing a stressful life event (i.e., the transition from university). Although the shift from parents to peers is an important cornerstone of Bowlby’s theory, this study is one of the first to test the differential effects of parent and peer networks on adjustment. In this longitudinal study, 73 participants completed surveys to assess attachment, social networks, and distress one month before completing their undergraduate degree and 6 months later. We found that participants experiencing the transition from university, who chose a peer as the first person in their network, tended to report stable scores over time whereas participants who chose a family member reported more variable scores. Interestingly, the direction of change was not different for the groups, just the magnitude of change. Furthermore, the difference in adjustment was not found when we compared the groups using the percent hierarchy method highlighting that there is a benefit of exploring primary attachment relationships when examining the influence of networks on adjustment.


attachment; depression; family relationships; peer relationships; self-esteem

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