Attachment and Social Competence in Adolescence

Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 1
Attachment, Close Friendship, and Popularity in Adolescence
Katherine C. Little
Distinguished Majors Thesis
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
April 18, 2003
Advisor: Joseph P. Allen
Second Reader: Thomas Oltmanns
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 2
The goal of this study was to explore how adolescent attachment to parents and adolescent close
friendships relate to popularity with peers. A sample of 174 target adolescents were assessed
using the Adult Attachment Interview, and peers provided sociometric ratings and measures of
companionship about the target adolescents. A secure attachment organization, characterized by
consistent discourse about early childhood experiences with parents, was related to higher scores
on measures of popularity. Preoccupied attachment, characterized by angry or diffuse discussion
of early parent-child experiences, was related to lower peer rankings of popularity.
Companionship with a best friend was also positively correlated with popularity, and this effect
was separate from the effects of adolescent attachment organization. Results were interpreted as
indicating that adolescents’ relationships with parents and close friends, and the correlates of
these relationships, both contribute separately to social functioning, specifically popularity with
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 3
I would like to thank my supervising professor, Dr. Joseph Allen, for the patience,
wisdom, and guidance he expressed as I worked on this project. I am also indebted to Christy
McFarland for her help and insight. Martin Ho, Farah Williams, Maryfrances Porter, and the
other members of the KLIFF lab were also very helpful and supportive throughout the process of
this project. Finally, I would like to extend thanks to my family and friends who have been so
encouraging over the course of this year.
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 4
Attachment, Close Friendship, and Popularity in Adolescence
An individual’s adolescent years can be among the most turbulent experiences of his or
her life. The combination of several factors, including hormonal changes, forming more intimate
relationships with peers, dating, and an increase in academic and career pressures are difficult
challenges that adolescents face. As teens mature, their tendency is to begin to look more to
their peers as sources of support (Steinberg, 2002). However, they appear to learn the patterns of
functioning in close relationships from early attachment bonds with parents (Allen & Land,
1999). This study examines how adolescents’ current states of mind with respect to attachment
to their parents might influence later relationships with peers.
Attachment: From Infancy to Adolescence
A person’s first and most basic relationship is the attachment bond. This is a unique
bond that is formed in infancy between a child and at least one specific caregiver, almost always
a parent. Once an attachment relationship is formed, the infant desires to maintain contact with
the attachment figure and displays affective distress when that person is unavailable (Cassidy,
1999). The attachment relationship with the parental attachment figure allows the child to
explore and learn about the physical world, but when the world becomes too stressful, the infant
seeks comfort from the parent as a safe haven. In this way, the parent acts as a “secure base”
from which the infant can safely explore (Weinfield, Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 1999;
Ainsworth, 1991). Based on experiences in this relationship, the infant begins to develop an
internal working model of himself, and this model is a representation of how accepted or
unaccepted a child feels in the eyes of his attachment figures (Meins, 1997; Bowlby, 1973). This
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 5
model, known as an internal working model, helps the child to formulate strategies for getting
his needs met by the parents. The child will use this model until it is no longer useful in the
relationship, at which point the child will alter the model to fit the new circumstances. One
popular procedure for examining this attachment relationship, between a child under two years of
age and a specific caregiver, is the Strange Situation (see Ainsworth & Wittig (1969) for
thorough coverage of this procedure). Although some research has found no positive correlation
between infant attachment and later attachment (Lewis, Feiring, & Rosenthal, 2000; Weinfield,
Sroufe, & Egeland, 2000), other research has found that internal working models and attachment
security tend to be at least somewhat stable over time (Waters, Weinfield, & Hamilton, 2000;
Hamilton, 2000; Waters, Merrick, Treboux, Crowell, & Albersheim, 2000), Thus, an infant’s
early experiences with parents may have an impact on his relationships for the rest of his life.
Unlike childhood, where exploration tends to be limited to the physical world,
exploration in adolescence is about exploring new emotional terrain, often in the form of
relationships with peers and romantic partners (Allen & Land, 1999). Thus, the nature of the
attachment relationship of an adolescent with his parents evolves into a strategy for managing
intense affect (Allen & Land, 1999; Kobak & Sceery, 1988), and it is hypothesized that
organization of the attachment relationship in adolescence is less about interactions in the parentchild relationship, and more about how the teenager conceptualizes this relationship (Allen &
Land). The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) was developed by George, Kaplan, & Main
(1985) to assess adults’ representations of their relationships with their parents, and also to
validate whether parents’ representations of relationships correspond to their infants’ attachment
organizations. Unlike the Strange Situation (see Ainsworth, 1969), the AAI does not measure a
person’s attachment organization with respect to a particular figure. Instead, the AAI measures
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 6
an adolescent’s general state of mind with respect to attachment. A growing body of evidence
supports the validity of the AAI as a measure of attachment in adulthood and adolescence
(Kobak & Sceery, 1998; Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985). The coding system for the AAI uses
four categories of attachment organization: secure/autonomous, dismissing, preoccupied, and
unresolved. Securely attached adolescents are able to produce a coherent narrative of their own
childhood and their parents’ behaviors toward them, even if the experience was not positive
(Kobak & Sceery). Adolescents coded as dismissing with respect to attachment, give responses
that tend to be contradictory or characterized by an inability to remember details from childhood.
Adolescents classified as preoccupied with attachment give responses that are angry, rambling,
and sometimes internally conflicting. The unresolved category of attachment is reserved for
teens caught up in the feelings of loss of a parent (Meins, 1997).
Attachment and Peer Relationships
The adolescent’s attachment organization is expected to influence peer relationships in
several ways. Generalizing from research using late childhood samples, attachment organization
may impact the teen’s social expectations about whether and how well his or her needs will be
met in intimate relationships, the teen’s feelings of self-worth or self-efficacy for whether he or
she feels worthy of having her needs met, whether he or she can have an influence on how others
interpret those needs, and how well the teen can reciprocate liking in relationships (Elicker,
Englund, & Sroufe, 1992). However, these constructs have not been thoroughly examined in
adolescent samples.
In addition, some developmental tools that are likely to be learned from
the parent-child attachment relationship may transfer to peer relationships, tools such as affect
regulation, empathy, reciprocity, conflict resolution skills, self-esteem, and interpersonal
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 7
understanding (Elicker, et al., 1992). It is important to note that the attachment relationship does
not transfer from the parent to the teen’s peers; attachment relationships are, by definition,
specific to a certain person and are persistent throughout the life course (Ainsworth, 1989;
Cassidy, 1999). One other point to note is that the focus of the current study is the adolescent’s
state of mind with respect to attachment, not any individual attachment relationship. Thus, teens
suffering from acute stress or threatening circumstances may discuss the problem with an
intimate close friend, but will usually turn to a parental attachment figure for deep comforting
and support.
Popularity vs. Friendship
When discussing adolescent peer relationships, it is important to make a distinction
between popularity and friendship: close, intimate friendships reflect a bond between two
individuals who reciprocally like one another, whereas popularity refers to how the teen
functions in a peer group (Bukowski et al., 1996). Another way of conceptualizing the
differences between friendship and popularity is in terms of individual qualities that make the
experiences of both meaningful. Close friendships often evolve to meet specific needs, and can
be evaluated by both parties. Involvement in the peer group rewards for leadership and
assertiveness, gives a sense of a larger community, and is typically evaluated unilaterally, or, in
other words, most individuals do not have a say in how popular they are (Bukowski et al.).
Popularity is frequently measured with a sociometric nomination procedure, of which
there are many varieties. In sociometric measurement, participants nominate peers as either
liked or disliked (some researchers prefer to use positive nominations only). These ratings can
be limited, for example, children may be asked to nominate only their 5 best- and least-liked
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 8
peers; or ratings can be unlimited, for example, a question that asks participants to rate all peers
in their class that they like and all peers that they dislike. Throughout the literature, two main
types of analysis have emerged. First is the single-dimensional system, which measures
sociometric status by the number of positive and/or negative nominations a child receives (Coie
& Dodge, 1988; Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993). In this system, the number of positive
nominations is communicated as social acceptance, and the number of negative nominations is
known as rejection (Coie, Dodge, & Coppotelli, 1982). This method has been criticized for the
possibility that strictly positive or negative nomination is not sufficiently sensitive to detect
relationships between popularity and other variables (Jarvinen & Nichols, 1996). The other
method is a two-dimensional system, which includes measures of acceptance and rejection, but
also uses different combinations of these scores to include more types of peers; specifically,
controverciality or social impact, which is defined as relative notice by peers, and is the sum of
acceptance and rejection scores; and neglect, which is the relative invisibility to peers, and
occurs when children do not score significantly highly on acceptance or rejection (Coie &
Dodge, 1988; Newcomb, et al., 1993) .
One special type of nomination procedure is the roster-and-ratings scale procedure, which
asks participants to rate all peers within a certain classroom or throughout the entire grade level
on a Likert scale from least to most preferred. Some researchers strongly advocate the use of a
roster-and-ratings scale to measure sociometric status among children, because it gives
information about exactly how much each participant likes every other peer (Parker & Asher,
1993). However, this method is impractical for measuring sociometric status among large
samples of adolescents, who may be in schools that are so large that they are unfamiliar with
many of their peers or for whom filling out sociometric nominations for hundreds of peers would
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 9
be unnecessarily taxing. Based on the variability of sociometric procedures in the literature, it
can be confusing and difficult to compare research studies that use sociometric measurement.
However, it should be clear that some measures are more appropriate for certain samples than
Measurements of friendship are comparatively less messy. Determining the existence of
a close reciprocal friendship is often as simple as having a child or adolescent rank his or her top
three “best” friends, and compare those to the rankings made by the three friends (Bukowski, et
al., 1996). The quality of a reciprocal friendship is useful because it is related both to attachment
and popularity. The constructs measured by typical surveys of friendship quality: emotional
support, trust, companionship, self-disclosure, and sensitivity to the needs and desires of others,
are naturally relevant to popularity (Parker & Asher, 1993). This study focuses on
companionship in particular. Companionship in childhood or adolescent relationships is defined
as the extent to which friends seek each other out to spend fun time together, both in and out of
school. As adolescents begin to seek out peers over parents as a source of social interaction and
enjoyment, they spend increasing amounts of time with a best friend or a group of close friends
(Steinberg, 2002). In fact, Steinberg notes that over 50 percent of an adolescent’s day is spent
with peers (including time at school), whereas only 15 percent is spent with parents and other
adults. Spending time with friends is obviously related to popularity, in fact, it is crucial to the
formation of a group’s opinion of an individual. The relationship between attachment and
companionship is not as clear, and in fact, there is very little research that has either studied or
found any significant relationship between the two (Lieberman, Doyle, and Markiewicz, 1999).
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 10
Why study popularity?
The effects of popularity can be dramatic on a teen, a peer group, and teens’ families. To
some teens and their parents, popularity can seem like a four-letter word, and to others, like a
shining tiara. Research suggests it can be both: the pressure to be popular with peers can have
positive and negative consequences. In early adolescence, the pressure to be viewed favorably
by peers may encourage young adolescents to pay more attention to personal hygiene and
appearance (Steinberg, 2002). On the flip side, concerns about popularity are also related to
body satisfaction and eating disorders (Lieberman, Gauvin, Bukowski, & White, 2001). Teens in
search of positive regard by their friends may experiment outside of their comfort zones, for
example, by trying a new sport, club, or class; but on the other hand, popularity is correlated with
teen experimentation with smoking (Alexander, Piazza, Mekos, & Valente, 2001). An
adolescent’s sociometric rating in the peer group has general behavioral correlates, as well.
Popularity is correlated with higher sociability, higher cognitive abilities, lower levels of
aggression, lower levels of withdrawal, the ability to be assertive when necessary, and good
facilitation of the goals of peers (Coie & Dodge, 1988; Newcomb, et al., 1993). Popularity
clearly has many important correlates and implications for adolescent development and
Research on the Relationship Between Attachment and Popularity
The link between adolescent attachment to parents and peer relationships is complex.
Studies of the relationship between childhood attachment and social competence help trace a
progression of early peer and parent relationships and link them with relationships in
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 11
adolescence. Popularity measures in childhood are appropriate ways to measures social
competence and social acceptance because the social network throughout most of childhood
tends to be a large peer group, with a few close friends. This is especially true for young boys,
who tend to travel in “packs,” while girls tend to pick a few close friends with whom they spend
time (Denham, et al., 2001). Overall, secure children seem to be better adjusted to the
intellectual, social, emotional, and behavioral demands of an early school environment than
insecure children, who tend to be more rejected and less well-liked by peers (Cohn, 1990; Granot
& Mayseless, 2001). More specific to insecure attachment, avoidant and disorganized
attachment patterns in children are linked to higher levels of peer rejection, whereas ambivalent
children tended to score in the average range on measures of peer rejection, but perceived this
rejection rate to be much higher than that reported by their peers (Granot & Mayseless, 2001).
There are also gender differences in the relationship between attachment security and
peer relations in childhood; secure boys may be found more often in positive, socially competent
playgroups; while secure girls apparently are more likely to be found in negative, less socially
competent playgroups (Denham, et al., 2001). Lefreniere and Sroufe (1985) found resistantly
attached girls to be robustly passive, withdrawn, submissive, and neglected around peers. In
another study, insecure boys were rated as less socially competent than insecure girls (Cohn,
1990). Granot and Mayseless (2001) found that boys were significantly more often avoidant or
disorganized, and that girls were more often secure; however, this is an Israeli sample and may
be difficult to generalize to more Western populations. Unfortunately for the current study, the
above research was conducted exclusively on childhood and preschool samples.
Some research on social functioning in adolescence is consistent with the findings of
childhood studies, however there are comparatively fewer studies of the relationship between
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 12
adolescent attachment and social competence or popularity with peers. In a study of first-year
college students, Kobak and Sceery (1988) found a significant contrast between securely
attached participants and those classified as preoccupied across self-report measures of perceived
social competence. Using self-report only measures of social functioning could be problematic,
because the way an adolescent functions in a peer group may be perceived differently by that
adolescent and members of the peer group (Belsky & Cassidy, 1995; Bukowski et al., 1996). In
a more recent study, Allen, Moore, Kuperminc, & Bell (1998) found a robust positive
relationship between secure attachment (AAI) and social acceptance, as reported on a target
adolescent by two different peers. This significant relationship remained even after controlling
for age, gender, income, minority status, and parents’ marital status. There was also a trend
toward a negative relationship between preoccupied attachment and social acceptance. Allen, et
al. (1998) also found that a secure attachment relationship appeared to predict social acceptance.
More broadly, Allen et al. suggest that the capacity of a securely attached adolescent to process
attachment-related emotions and memories coherently is linked to multiple aspects of
psychosocial functioning in adolescence. Therefore, there is some evidence to suggest that the
attachment relationship may indeed serve as an internal working model for numerous types of
social interactions throughout childhood and adolescence.
Despite these findings, Lieberman, Doyle, and Markiewicz (1999) did not find a
significant relationship between attachment and social acceptance in a Canadian sample of older
children and early adolescents. The participants’ attachment security was measured by the Kerns
Security Scale (KSS; Kerns, Klepac, & Cole (1996)), and the adolescents also each completed a
measure of friendship quality about a reciprocal best friend and a measure of sociometric status.
Lieberman, et al. (1999) found attachment security to be significantly correlated with friendship
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 13
quality, in that adolescents that viewed their parents as more available and reliable in times of
stress also reported more positive qualities and less conflict in their close friendships.
Interestingly, neither companionship nor popularity with peers was significantly related to
attachment security. Lieberman, et al. reason that this lack of findings is because attachment as
an organizational construct is more appropriate to compare to other intimate relationship
constructs, and that popularity does not fit into this theoretical model. Another possible reason
for these findings is that the KSS, unlike the AAI, is a self-report questionnaire that explicitly
asks children to rate how available, reliable, and communicative they think their parents are. The
AAI, in contrast, is a measure of the underlying structure of the attachment system that tries to
explore peoples’ implicit feelings and thoughts about their relationship with their parents. The
KSS is also specific to individual parental attachment relationships, thus it wouldn’t make sense
for the measure to predict non-close relationship characteristics. Moreover, the AAI might give
a more global impression of the internal working model, as compared to the KSS, and this may
be more generalizable to non-intimate relationship contexts. Despite measurement differences,
Lieberman, et al.’s study design suggests the need to examine the different roles that attachment
and peer relationships play in broader social functioning. This study examines how two different
constructs, attachment to parents and companionship with a close friend, relate to one aspect of
adolescent social functioning: popularity.
Hypotheses of the current study
Based upon the theory and literature in the field of attachment and social relationships,
three relationships between attachment security and social acceptance are proposed. First, a
secure attachment will be predictive of greater popularity. Second, preoccupied attachment will
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 14
be predictive of lesser popularity. Third, the quality of companionship with a close friend will
predict popularity separately from and in addition to attachment organization. In other words,
we are considering an adolescent’s relationship with his or her peers separately from his or her
relationship with a best friend, in order to see how each might add to our understanding of
teenage popularity.
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 15
Participants in this study are drawn from a larger longitudinal study of adolescent
development and peer and parent relationships. Data collection for the current study took place
in the second year of the ongoing study. In the second wave of the study, participants were 174
seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students. There were 82 males and 92 females who agreed to
participate (age: M = 14.26, SD = .78). The sample was diverse racially/ethnically (61%
European American and 39% African American, other minority group, or mixed), as well as with
respect to socioeconomic status, with a median family income of $50,000. At each wave,
adolescents nominated a single closest friend to be included in the study, as well as two other
peers who were ranked by the target adolescents as their fourth closest and eighth closest friends.
Close friends reported that they had known the target adolescents for a mean of 4.46 years (SD =
0.75) at the second wave.
Adolescents were recruited prior to Wave 1 from the seventh and eighth grades at a
public middle school in a part urban, part suburban area in the Southeastern United States.
Mailings were sent to the parents of all students at the school, and were followed by contact
efforts at school lunches. Adolescents who expressed interest in the study were contacted by
telephone, and of those eligible, 63% agreed to participate as either a target participant or as a
peer providing information about the target adolescent. All participants provided informed
assent before each interview session, and parents provided active, informed consent. Interviews
took place in private offices within a university academic building.
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 16
During the first year of the study, the target adolescents’ parents reported on total annual
household income. At the second wave/year of data collection, spaced approximately one year
apart from the first wave, adolescents completed two visits: first alone and then again with their
previously named close peer. At the first visit, target adolescents listed their twelve closest
friends and ranked them from closest to least close. The peer identified as number one was
contacted by phone as the “close peer” to complete measures in a joint visit with the target teen
at visit two. The two peers identified as the target adolescent’s fourth- and eighth-closest friends
were also contacted to come in separately and fill out measures about their own behavior and
their relationship with the target adolescent. Parents, target adolescents, and peers were all paid
for their participation. Transportation and childcare were provided, if necessary.
Attachment: The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) and Q-set. (George, Kaplan, & Main,
1995; Kobak, Cole, Ferenz-Gillies, Fleming, & Gamble, 1993). Adolescents were administered
the Adolescent Attachment Interview, a form of the Adult Attachment Interview modified for
use with adolescents (Ward & Carlson, 1995). The AAI is a semi-structured interview that asks
adolescents about childhood experiences, using both semantic and episodic memories.
Adolescents are asked to describe their childhood relationship with their parents in the form of
five adjectives (semantic memories). They are then probed to provide a specific example or
memory of their parents that exemplifies each adjective (episodic memories). The individual’s
responses are audio taped, transcribed, and then coded based upon overall coherence and the
ability of the interviewee to integrate semantic and episodic memories. The entire interview lasts
about 1 hour.
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 17
The AAI Q-set (Kobak, et al., 1993). Adolescents’ attachment status was determined by
Q-sort coding the AAI (George, Kaplan & Main, 1985; Kobak et al., 1993). Interviews were
classified for overall states of mind with respect to attachment. This study focused on two types
of attachment organization, secure and preoccupied. Secure attachment is characterized by
consistent discourse about early childhood experiences with parents, whereas preoccupied
attachment is characterized by angry or diffuse discussion of early parent-child experiences
(Ainsworth, 1989; Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991; Allen & Land, 1999). Spearman-Brown splithalf reliability for secure attachment was .83 and of preoccupied attachment was .80.
Companionship. The Friendship Quality Questionnaire (Parker & Asher, 1993) was
designed to assess adolescents’ conceptualization of the quality of their relationships with their
closest friend. The companionship and recreation subscale was used to measure the extent to
which friends spend enjoyable time with one another (Parker & Asher). The target adolescent
and their nominated close friend each completed the FQQ about one another. The construct
measured by the companionship and recreation subscale will hereafter simply be referred to as
Popularity. Adolescent popularity was measured by a sociometric nominating procedure
that was completed by the target adolescents, their closest peer, and the fourth- and eighthclosest friends. Because the sample was contained in one school, it was possible for target
adolescents, close peers, and other peers to be nominated multiple times to fill out
questionnaires. If an adolescent filled out questionnaires about more than one peer over the
course of a particular wave, he or she only completed the sociometrics procedure once.
Adolescents were asked to provide positive nominations: “the ten students in your grade that you
would most like to spend time with on a Saturday night,” and these nominations were explicitly
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 18
limited to within-grade peers. If an adolescent had fewer than ten peers to nominate, they were
gently instructed by the interviewer to nominate as many as possible. Nominations were
standardized according to the procedures set forth by Coie and Dodge (1983, 1988). Negative
nominations were also collected, but were not analyzed for the purpose of this study.
Preliminary Analyses
Sample Means. Means and standard deviations of attachment, popularity, and
companionship are presented in Table 1. Mean attachment scores are similar to those of a
sample of adolescents with academic risk factors (Allen et al., 1998), and to a normative sample
of adolescents (Kobak et al., 1993).
Table 1
Means and Standard Deviations of Attachment, Social Acceptance, Companionship,
and Demographic Variables
Adolescent Attachment Security (I)
Adolescent Attachment Preoccupation (I)
Adolescent Attachment Dismissing (I)
Popularity/Social Acceptance (Combined score from A, CP,
Companionship (A)
Companionship (CP)
Note: I – Coded from Interviews; A – Adolescent Reported; CP – Close Peer Reported;
OF – Other Friend Reported
Intercorrelations of Attachment Measures. Preliminary correlations were run among
attachment scales to test for significant relationships within the measure (Table 2). A strong
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 19
negative correlation between secure and dismissing attachment was found (r = -.93, p < .001).
Therefore, for the remainder of the analyses, only secure and preoccupied attachment scales were
used, in order to avoid the redundancy implied by including the dismissing scale.
Table 2
Univariate Correlations of Attachment Variables
Adolescent Preoccupied
Adolescent Secure Attachment
Adolescent Preoccupied
Note: *** p < .001. ** p < .01. * p < .05. + p < .10. N = 144
Adolescent Dismissing
Demographic Variables. Preliminary correlations of attachment, popularity, and
companionship with demographic variables tested for significant relationships therein. As seen
in Table 3, significant correlations were obtained between family income and attachment scales
(r = .33, p < .001 secure; r = -.36, p < .001 preoccupied), and income and popularity (r = .34, p <
.001). Participant gender was also correlated with preoccupied attachment (r = .23, p < .01).
Table 3
Univariate Correlations of Demographic Variables with Attachment, Popularity, and
Adolescent Secure Attachment
Adolescent Preoccupied Attachment
Companionship (Adolescent Reported)
Companionship (Close Peer Reported)
Note: *** p <.001. ** p < .01. * p < . 05. N = 129
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 20
Primary Analyses
Correlations among measures of attachment, popularity, and companionship were run with
income and gender partialed out. The results of these partial correlations are presented in Table
Table 4
Partial Correlations Among Attachment and Friendship Measures (Partialing out Gender and
1. Adolescent Secure Attachment
2. Adolescent Preoccupied Attachment
3. Popularity
4. Companionship (Self Report)
5. Companionship (Close Peer Report)
Note: *** p <.001. ** p < .01. * p < . 05. N = 129
After determining several significant correlations, hierarchical regression analyses were used to
further examine the relationship between attachment, companionship, and popularity. In step
one, adolescent gender and family income were entered as demographic variables. In each
regression step two consisted of attachment organization, with analyses run separately for secure
and preoccupied attachment. In step three the close friend’s report of companionship in the dyad
was entered, followed by the target adolescent’s self report of companionship.
Secure Attachment. Secure attachment was moderately positively correlated with
popularity (r = .30, p < .001), even after partialing out income and gender (see Table 4).
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 21
However, we found no significant relationship between attachment and either close peer or selfreports of companionship. In a regression analysis, (Table 5), secure attachment added to 9
percent of the variance in popularity, over and above demographic variables (entry = .30, F =
12.62, p < .001).
Table 5
Predicting Adolescent Social Acceptance from Secure Attachment and Companionship
(Controlling for Demographic Factors – Gender and Income)
Step I.
Family Income (Age
Statistics for step I
Adolescent Popularity
 (entry)
Step II.
Secure Attachment
Step III.
Companionship (Peer
Companionship (Self
Statistics for step III
 R2
Total R2
Note: *** p <.001. ** p < .01. * p < . 05. + p < .10. Model N = 128
Preoccupied Attachment. As noted in Table 6, preoccupied attachment was negatively
correlated with popularity (r = -.20, p < .05). Preoccupation, like security, had no significant
correlation with either report of companionship. In regression analysis, preoccupied attachment
added 4 percent over and above the variance in popularity explained by demographic factors
(entry = -.20, F = 4.97, p < .05).
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 22
Table 6
Predicting Adolescent Social Acceptance from Preoccupied Attachment
(Controlling for Demographic Factors – Gender and Income)
Step I.
Family Income (Age
Statistics for step I
Step II.
Step III.
Companionship (Peer
Companionship (Self
Statistics for step III
Adolescent Popularity/Social Preference/Acceptance
 (entry)
 R2
Total R2
Note: *** p <.001. ** p < .01. * p < . 05. + p < .10. Model N = 128
Companionship. Both the close peer’s report and the target adolescents’ report of
companionship were included in the regression analyses. By doing this, we hoped to provide
multiple accounts and an accurate representation of the quality of companionship in the
relationship, while attempting to minimize the problems associated with relying on exclusively
self-report data. Due to a strong (yet far from perfect) positive correlation between the two
reporters (r = .64, p < .001), we believe that combining the two reports into a single step in the
regression analyses provided the best overall model for assessing the impact of companionship
on popularity. In regression analyses, peer report and adolescent self report of companionship
were added (in that order) in step three of the model. In the secure attachment model, the
combined addition of companionship scores explained 5 percent of the variance in popularity
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 23
over and above secure attachment organization and demographic variables (see Table 5 for beta
weights). In the preoccupied attachment model, combined scores of companionship explained an
additional 6 percent of the variance in popularity over and above preoccupied attachment and
demographic variables (see Table 6 for beta weights).
Final beta weights were included in Tables 5 and 6 in order to express the changes in beta
weight that took place throughout the regression analyses. Specifically, when peer and selfreports of companionship were added to the model, the preoccupied attachment beta weight
became a nonsignificant finding (see Table 6). Another surprising finding was the effective
annihilation of the significance of the beta weight of the close peer’s report of companionship by
the target adolescent’s self-report companionship score. Although each report contributed
separately and significantly to the increase in explained variance in popularity, the target
adolescent’s own perception appears to be a stronger predictor of this increase than the close
friend’s. Interestingly, despite previous findings in childhood samples where gender was
strongly linked to differences in attachment and social acceptance (Denham, et al., 2001; Granot
& Mayseless, 2001), gender did not account for any significant percentage of the variance in
popularity for either the secure or preoccupied models.
The hypotheses this study examines appear to have general support from the analyses
presented. Secure attachment was robustly positively correlated with popularity, even when
taking gender and family income into account. Secure attachment organization also explained a
significant amount of the variability in popularity, over and above that explained by demographic
variables. Therefore, there is evidence to suggest that a secure attachment relationship does
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 24
contribute to an adolescent’s popularity within the peer group. This is consistent with previous
research on attachment and social functioning, and may imply that, because of early parent-child
interactions and subsequent states of mind regarding attachment, secure adolescents have
developed relationship skills better suited to positive social interactions. In other words, securely
attached adolescents may be better equipped to learn the art of graceful social exchange.
The second hypothesis, that adolescents who are preoccupied with attachment tend to be
less popular with peers, is also supported by this study’s findings. Adolescents with preoccupied
attachment strategies were less likely to be popular with their peers, and this result was found
over and above the relationship of gender and income with popularity. Previous research has
found that preoccupied children are not only less popular with their peers, they are also explicitly
rejected by peers (Granot & Mayseless, 2001). More importantly in terms of attachment
organization, preoccupied children expect even higher levels of rejection than they actually
receive. Therefore, preoccupied adolescents, whose normal developmental progression (like
most adolescents) is to seek more autonomy from parents and more interactions with peers, may
be caught up in worries over acceptance by parents, and to this is added the additional stress of
the struggle for acceptance by peers. These teens may spend so much effort racing around,
mentally evaluating relationships, that they do not allow themselves a chance to “breathe.” It is
no wonder that these teens, who have the potential to be constantly stressed about relationships,
are less popular with their peers.
The third hypothesis, that companionship is related to popularity separately and
additively to attachment organization, is also supported. Higher quality of companionship (for
both peer and target adolescent reports) was found to be associated with adolescent popularity
with peers, and the combined companionship scores also explained a small percentage of the
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 25
variance in popularity in addition that explained by both secure and preoccupied attachment.
This speaks to Lieberman et al.’s (1999) assertion that attachment ought only be related to other
intimate relationship constructs. Based upon the results of this study, an alternative to this
conclusion is that both an adolescent’s state of mind with respect to attachment and the quality of
companionship with close friends can influence popularity in separate ways. This hypothesis is
made stronger by the finding that neither secure nor preoccupied attachment was correlated with
reports of companionship, so we may speculate that these two constructs are influencing
popularity in meaningfully different ways. Potential reasons for this finding are discussed
In the preoccupied model, beta weights of preoccupation declined from a significant
finding at entry into the model to nonsignificant finding after companionship was entered. What
we propose this means is that, for preoccupied adolescents, having a close friend with whom
they spend a great deal of time may serve several purposes. First, spending time with one close
friend might be a distracting factor; thus helping prevent a preoccupied adolescent from being
alone and worried about what his friends, parents, and other peers think about him. Second,
simply having a close friend who is potentially understanding might provide a preoccupied teen
with a safe “breathing space” from which to more calmly evaluate relationships. Third, having a
close friend with whom one spends a large portion of time may provide more opportunities for
comfortable interactions with additional peers.
We should note that time spent with a close friend is not necessarily quality time, and that
future research should assess preoccupied teens’ interactions with their close friends. Knowing
the close friend’s attachment status would also be useful, for example, in order to explore
whether preoccupied teens who have secure close friends are more popular and/or socially
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 26
accepted than preoccupied teens with insecurely attached close friends. Future research could
also examine additional specific aspects of social functioning that may be related to both
attachment organization and adolescent popularity. Constructs such as affect regulation, self
esteem, and conflict resolution skills may serve to better explain how attachment and
companionship jointly and separately contribute to popularity.
Some limitations of this study are tied into the measurement of sociometric status.
Because the sample of sociometrics reporters was not randomly selected, it may not be
representative of the entire school’s popularity structure. Additionally, because it was
particularly difficult to contact adolescents’ peers of the lowest income brackets, results may be
biased to a sample of higher socioeconomic status. Limitations tied to attachment measurement
include the use of the Q-sort procedure, which does not allow for the identification of the
insecure/unresolved category of attachment organization. This is not highly problematic or
invalidating to the results of this study, but including this category in future research could help
to provide a more detailed examination of attachment states of mind and their relationship to
various aspects of adolescent social functioning.
In conclusion, the researchers of the current study set out in an attempt to better
understand how adolescents function socially, in the context of both parental and peer
relationships. There is no suggestion that certain attachment states of mind or qualities of
companionship cause an adolescent to be more or less popular. Popularity may be influencing
the quality of an adolescent’s companionship with a close friend in ways we have not explored,
and it is possible, though theoretically unlikely, that popularity may have some effect on an
adolescent’s state of mind with respect to attachment. The findings of this study are relatively
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 27
simple; however, they are exciting in the sense that future researchers can use them as steppingstones to more in-depth and applied studies of adolescent development.
Attachment and Adolescent Popularity 28
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