A systematic review of adult attachment and social anxiety
School of Arts and Humanities
Attachment has been implicated in the development of social anxiety. Our aim was to synthesise the extant literature exploring the role of adult attachment in these disorders.
Search terms relating to social anxiety and attachment were entered into MEDLINE, PsycINFO and Web of Science. Risk of bias of included studies was assessed using and adapted version of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality assessment tool. Eligible studies employed validated social anxiety and attachment assessments in adult clinical and analogue samples. The review included cross sectional, interventional and longitudinal research.
Of the 30 identified studies, 28 showed a positive association between attachment insecurity and social anxiety. This association was particularly strong when considering attachment anxiety. Cognitive variables and evolutionary behaviours were identified as potential mediators, concordant with psychological theory.
Due to a lack of longitudinal research, the direction of effect between attachment and social anxiety variables could not be inferred. There was substantial heterogeneity in the way that attachment was conceptualised and assessed across studies.
The literature indicates that attachment style is associated with social anxiety. Clinicians may wish to consider attachment theory when working clinically with this population. In the future, it may be useful to target the processes that mediate the relationship between attachment and social anxiety.