Attachment style and self-regulation: How our patterns in relationships reflect broader motivational styles

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© 2015.Individuals orient themselves in relationships using different goals and preoccupations, often conceptualized as four distinct attachment styles (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). Individuals also orient themselves in the social world more broadly using different motivational preferences and styles. Self-discrepancy theory (Higgins, 1987) and regulatory focus theory (Higgins, 1997) are two frameworks used to conceptualize these motivational styles. In two studies we investigated the extent to which preoccupations in relationships reflected broader life goals. In Study 1, college participants reported attachment style and self-discrepancies (ideal and ought selves). In Study 2, community participants reported attachment style and regulatory focus (promotion and prevention orientations). Across two different samples, using distinct but complementary theoretical frameworks, we found a consistent pattern whereby a more approach-oriented relationship orientation (secure attachment), was related to a more approach-oriented general life orientation (lower actual-ideal discrepancy and greater promotion focus). Interestingly, attachment style was unrelated to avoidance-oriented motivational styles. These results suggest that motivations within relationships may be specifically related to growth motivations in broader aspects of life.






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Blalock, DV, AT Franzese, KA Machell and TJ Strauman (2015). Attachment style and self-regulation: How our patterns in relationships reflect broader motivational styles. Personality and Individual Differences, 87. pp. 90–98. 10.1016/j.paid.2015.07.024 Retrieved from

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Daniel Blalock

Associate Consulting Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

I am a behavioral health researcher with a background in Clinical Psychology and Experimental Psychology.  My research interests include broad processes of behavior change and self-regulation as well as psychometric measurement and research methods/statistics.  My specific research endeavors include 1) the measurement and behavior change applicability of constructs related to self-control, 2) measurement and interventions to improve self-regulatory health behaviors including medication adherence and substance use, and 3) measure development and psychometrics as related to self-reported and patient-reported outcomes.


Timothy J. Strauman

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

FOR POTENTIAL STUDENTS (fall 2024 class): 

Dr. Timothy Strauman and Dr. Ann Brewster will be seeking to admit a student for Fall 2024 who will be an important member of their collaborative projects. Dr. Brewster is an intervention scientist and a faculty member in Duke’s Social Science Research Institute. The collaborative projects focus on creating, testing, and implementing school-based therapeutic and preventive interventions for adolescents at risk for negative academic and mental health outcomes. We are partnering with the Durham Public Schools as well as with other local school districts, and Dr. Brewster has extensive experience and expertise in developing the partnerships, working with community members, and the intervention process itself. We are especially interested in applicants with experience in community-based interventions, with interests in adolescence, and with knowledge and experience working with both behavioral and neuroimaging data.

Professor Strauman's research focuses on the psychological and neurobiological processes that enable self-regulation, conceptualized in terms of a cognitive/motivational perspective, as well as the relation between self-regulation and affect. Particular areas of emphasis include: (1) conceptualizing self-regulation in terms of brain/behavior motivational systems; (2) the role of self-regulatory cognitive processes in vulnerability to depression and other disorders; (3) the impact of treatments for depression, such as psychotherapy and medication, on self-regulatory function and dysfunction in depression; (4) how normative and non-normative socialization patterns influence the development of self-regulatory systems; (5) the contributory roles of self-regulation, affect, and psychopathology in determining immunologically-mediated susceptibility to illness; (6) development of novel multi-component treatments for depression targeting self-regulatory dysfunction; (7) utilization of brain imaging techniques to test hypotheses concerning self-regulation, including the nature and function of hypothetical regulatory systems and characterizing the breakdowns in self-regulation that lead to and accompany depression.

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