Your Responses Guide Me: Decreased Attachment Anxiety Through an Online Relationship-Building Paradigm

Benjamin N. Johnson, Nancy G. Bliwise

Abstract


This study aims to improve self-reported attachment anxiety and avoidance through an online relationship-building paradigm. Seventy-seven undergraduate participants completed an online attachment-focused paradigm in which they developed a relationship with a virtual partner, and fifty participants successfully completed a second laboratory-based phase of the study. During the online phase, all participants completed the Experiences in Close Relationships―Revised questionnaire (ECR-R), the experimental group engaged in an interactive relationship-formation story with a virtual partner designed to enhance secure attachment, and control participants engaged in the program without guidance. Participants then visited the laboratory, were asked to recall the online interaction, and again completed the ECR-R. Overall, participants exhibited a significant decrease in their attachment anxiety, but not avoidance; however, change in attachment security did not differ based on study group. Change in the experimental condition was attributed to the secure focus of the guided interaction with the virtual partner. Change in the control condition, on the other hand, was attributed to general relationship practice and behavioral principles of operant conditioning. These results provide preliminary evidence for the effect of a virtual practice relationship on attitudes towards real-life attachments to significant others.

Keywords


anxiety; attachment; avatar; avoidance; online; relationships

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.v11i1.254