Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Supervisor

Terry De Jong

Second Supervisor

Martin Cooper


This thesis develops an understanding of how the significant-other-attachment-history of ‘secure’, ‘preoccupied’, ‘dismissing-avoidant’ or ‘fearful-avoidant’ new teachers has an effect upon action-choices in the classroom. The motivation for the study is the daily challenge faced by new teachers, as evidenced by disturbing early-career retention statistics. The focus of the thesis is on the redefining of emotional intelligence (EQ) as a comprehensive ‘filtering’ and enabling application of attachment processing.

A ‘mixed-method’ analysis of quantitative and qualitative data was conducted, using data from pre-service and early career contexts, collected over a three-year period. In phase one, using the Bar-On EQ-i, and the ‘Experiences in Close Relationships (Revised) Questionnaire’, EQ indicators and the two attachment indicators were tested. In phase two, relevant codes were applied to the qualitative data; using a custom-designed method inspired by Grounded Theory.

Three fundamental aspects of the relationship between EQ and attachment were identified during the study, namely, the strength of the relationship, the nature of the relationship, and the effects of the relationship within a teacher-pupil negotiation context. The central argument of the thesis is that levels of attachment-related anxiety and/or attachment-related avoidance, in early-career teachers, inhibit specific EQ-functioning.

The relationship between EQ and attachment was found to weaken significantly when the EQ-elements, ‘empathy’ and ‘social responsibility’, revealed no significant correlation when tested against each attachment indicator ‘anxiety’ and ‘avoidance’. Further weakness in the relationship was revealed when the EQ-element ‘interpersonal relationship’ was tested against the attachment indicator ‘anxiety’. Four EQ-elements that do evidence a significant correlation with attachment are ‘reality-testing’, ‘self-regard’, ‘stress-tolerance’ and ‘self-awareness’.

The nature of the relationship emerged from qualitative analysis; explained by high levels of attachment-related anxiety or avoidance that inhibit the EQ-abilities of self-regard, reality-testing, stress-tolerance and self-awareness. There is a tri-partite relationship between the elements of attachment style, the above-noted elements of emotional intelligence, and a new

teacher’s significant-other attachment history (the summative experiential factor). The nature of the relationship between EQ and attachment is further evidenced by an inhibited EQ-ability for some new teachers. This inhibited ability has an impact upon action-choice, as the new teacher attempts to develop and manage the teacher-pupil relationship. Finally, the nature of the relationship can be seen in significant-other attachment transference-type processes which manifest as positive or negative action-choices by some new teachers.

Securely-attached new teachers, exhibiting enhanced self-awareness and self-regard, interpret the reality of the modern classroom differently to fearful, preoccupied and dismissing new teachers. New teachers with high levels of attachment-related anxiety or avoidance evidence diminished EQ-abilities and display action-choices that reflect an attempt to protect the teacher-self within challenging classroom contexts.

While this thesis contributes to an understanding of the relationship between emotional intelligence and attachment, further research remains to be done in the field of ‘social and emotional intelligence’. In particular, future scientific research could focus on the brain activity of each of the four attachment styles, to better understand the notion of significant-other transference in educational settings. The finding, that not all elements of emotional intelligence are correlated to attachment processes, should be taken to other contexts. Such work would, in the fullness of time, inform best practice, as pre-service programmers continue to try to find a better way of supporting new teachers.

LCSH Subject Headings

Emotional intelligence

First year teachers - Western Australia

Teaching - Psychological aspects - Attachment behavior