An attachment perspective on adult sibling relationships

Doherty, Nicole Alicia (2006). An attachment perspective on adult sibling relationships PhD Thesis, School of Psychology , University of Queensland.

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Author Doherty, Nicole Alicia
Thesis Title An attachment perspective on adult sibling relationships
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2006
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Associate Professor Judith Feeney
Abstract/Summary The present program of research investigated sibling relationships in adulthood from an attachment perspective. Although research indicates that attachment theory offers a useful perspective on the influence of early relationships with caregivers on subsequent relationship functioning, attachment principles have rarely been applied to adults’ family relationships. In the current studies, several broad research aims were addressed. First, the role of siblings as attachment figures in adulthood and the nature of sibling attachment were assessed. Second, associations between attachment variables and reports of relationship quality were investigated. The third aim involved assessing the mediating role of communication skill in the association between attachment and relationship quality. Fourth, the impact of attachment variables on broad aspects of sibling conversation was investigated. The final aim was to assess the mediating role of communication skill in the association between attachment and sibling conversation. The present research had several noteworthy features. These features included the recruitment of pairs of adult siblings, the use of a dual methodology to assess aspects of sibling communication, and the distinction between attachment security and attachment strength as separate predictors of sibling relationship functioning. These features represent an important contribution to the literature on sibling relationships. The first study assessed the structure of adults’ attachment networks, using a questionnaire measure of preferred attachment figures with a large sample of adults (N = 812) representing various ages and life situations. Overall, the results indicated that siblings were one of the six most commonly reported attachment figures in adulthood. Importantly, siblings qualified as full-blown attachments for a sizable proportion of participants and for some participants, constituted the primary attachment figure. The strength and nature of sibling attachment were affected by age and normative life events. For Studies 2 and 3, 174 pairs of siblings (N=348) were recruited. In Study 2, participants completed multiple-item self-report questionnaires concerning their sibling relationship. This study assessed the associations among attachment, communication skill and sibling relationship quality. Findings revealed the influence of both the individual’s own and the sibling’s attachment variables (security and strength) on evaluations of relationship quality. Further, the link between attachment variables and sibling relationship quality was largely mediated by communication skill: Siblings who were secure in attachment communicated competently, which enhanced relationship quality. Study 3 used a dual methodology to obtain a more detailed understanding of sibling conversation. Participants completed self-report questionnaires and structured diary records of actual everyday conversations to assess the influence of attachment variables on specific aspects of sibling conversations. The findings from this study pointed to the utility of attachment theory for understanding sibling conversations. Attachment security and attachment strength were related to both the individual’s own and the sibling’s reports of conversation. Once again, many of the links between attachment variables and specific aspects of sibling conversation were mediated by communication skill. Overall, the present research supports the utility of investigating adults’ sibling relationships using attachment theory as a conceptual framework. A more complete understanding of sibling relationships in adulthood was achieved by exploring the impact of attachment security and attachment strength on sibling relationship functioning. The findings extend empirical research into adult sibling relationships and adult attachment, and are discussed in terms of their theoretical and practical implications.

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 14:45:48 EST