The relationship experiences of single people : attachment, social support and psychological adjustment

Miller, Raymond Jeffery (2002). The relationship experiences of single people : attachment, social support and psychological adjustment PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Miller, Raymond Jeffery
Thesis Title The relationship experiences of single people : attachment, social support and psychological adjustment
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2002
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr. Judy Feeney
Professor Pat Noller
Total pages 367
Collection year 2002
Language eng
Subjects L
380106 Developmental Psychology and Ageing
780107 Studies in human society
Formatted abstract

The purpose of the current program of research was to examine the relationship experiences of single men and women. This was achieved using focus group, experimental and questionnaire designs. First, a preliminary study of singles involving focus group discussions was conducted in order to provide relevant and comprehensive coverage of the research area. The findings of this study confirmed that there were four general topics that needed to be investigated in subsequent studies, including single people's relationship experiences, reasons for being single, perceptions of singles (including the issue of stigma), and parenthood.

The second study investigated perceptions of single using an experimental methodology. In this experiment, undergraduate students were presented with one of four brief written descriptions of a hypothetical job applicant, and asked to rate the applicant on various Likert scales. All information about the applicant was held constant with the exception of the applicant's gender and marital status. Contrary to expectations, findings from this study suggested that single people were not viewed in a negative light, relative to their married counterparts.

The third methodology utilized in the current program of research involved questionnaires. Questionnaire packages (including questions concerning demographic information, relationship information, family relationships, reasons for being single, psychological adjustment and physical health, sexual behaviour and attitudes, beliefs about relationships, attachment patterns, social support and social networks, relationship needs, and perceptions of close, intimate and supportive relationships) were distributed to 290 single participants and to 114 married participants. Differences between married. previously-married and never-married people on various dependent variables were examined. Notably, married participants were found to have better psychological adjustment than unmarried participants.

Based on the questionnaire data, a typological model of singlehood was also developed. Based on three dimension (e.g., desire for a relationship, and perceived control over and stability of single status), a hierarchical cluster analysis was performed, yielding four distinct types of singles. These types of singles were labeled resolved, temporary, wishful and undecided singles. Significant differences between types of singles were found on various dependent variables.

The questionnaire data was also used to explore the utility of attachment theory in expanding our understanding of singlehood. In particular, the associations between attachment patterns and relationship status as well as types of singles, the importance of attachment needs to single people, and the attachment figures of single people were examined. As predicted, single people were more likely than married people to endorse an insecure attachment style. While all relationship status groups rated attachment needs to be "very important", married participants rated these needs to be of greater importance than did their single counterparts. While married participants nominated their spouse most frequently as an attachment figure, single participants nominated a friend most frequently as an attachment figure. The implications of these findings for attachment theory are discussed.

The types and levels of social support available to single men and women were also examined using the questionnaire data. In particular, differences between relationship status groups and between types of singles, in terms of perceived availability of social support and social support networks, were found. In addition, perceived social support was found to mediate the associations between the dimensions of singlehood and psychological adjustment, whereas support network characteristics did not.

Finally, a two-part prototype analysis (i.e., free-list task and centrality ratings task) of close, intimate and supportive relationships was conducted to compare the conceptualisations of these three types of relationships held by different relationship status groups. Findings from this investigation showed that single and married people did not differ in their conceptualizations of close relationships. However, they did differ in their conceptualizations of intimate and supportive relationships. Moreover, differences in these conceptualisations as a function of attachment characteristics were also observed.

Based on the findings reported in the current thesis, four broad themes emerged. The first theme involved the difficulties associated with remaining single in adulthood. According to the findings presented throughout this thesis, there is considerable evidence to suggest that it is difficult being single; however, some findings were not consistent with this claim. The heterogeneous nature of the single population was the second salient theme to emerge; that is, important differences between different types of single were identified. The third theme involved single people's concerns about closeness, intimacy and social support. Finally, the utility of attachment principles in understanding singlehood was also suggested. In particular, four key issues of relevance to attachment theory and singlehood were addressed. These issues were the relevance of dismissing avoidance to the study of singlehood, the association between attachment security and dimensions of singlehood, the importance of attachment needs, and the attachment figures of single people. Theoretical and practical implications of the current program of research are discussed. In addition, recommendations for further research on the topic of singlehood are provided.
Keyword Single people -- Psychology
Single people -- Attitudes
Interpersonal relations
Additional Notes There are no pages numbered 94, 102, 308, 340 in the original thesis.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:02:18 EST