Are Caregiving Styles Influenced by Attachment Styles?

Evaluating and assessing someone’s need for care is a critical component of acting as an effective and objective caregiver. However, according to a new study led by S. Jeffrey Bailey of the Department of Psychology at the University of New Brunswick Saint John in Canada, the attachment style of a caregiver can influence how they respond to a patient’s needs. “The Social Communication Model of Pain raised the possibility that characteristics of those observing pain may also influence evaluations of individuals experiencing pain and that these evaluations could influence caregiving responses directed to those in pain,” said Bailey. “Attachment theory is a well-supported biopsychosocial framework for investigating reactions to others in distress that holds promise for developing a more complete understanding of factors involved in evaluating individuals experiencing pain.”

Bailey developed his study on the premise that caregivers would judge how a patient responded to their pain based on their own avoidant or anxious attachment styles. Bailey asked 267 graduate students to read and evaluate two pain vignettes, one that demonstrated catastrophic coping, the other that demonstrated distractive coping. “Similar to past research, the catastrophizing vignette received more negative ratings than the distraction vignette (e.g., greater disability level), and female participants provided more positive ratings than male participants (e.g., greater deservingness of support),” said Bailey. “While the attachment variables were unrelated to some dependent variables, consistent with the main hypothesis, attachment avoidance was associated with lower ratings of perceived deservingness of support and desirability as a friend.” He added, “The significant finding regarding vignette type and the psychological factors variable raises the possibility that patients presenting with a high level of pain catastrophizing would be particularly likely to receive a referral to a mental health specialist.” Although Bailey noted that this could be beneficial, he also pointed out that it may prevent a caregiver from recognizing the need for other types of medical care. Bailey said, “The current findings were consistent with the general proposition of the Social Communication Model of Pain that characteristics of those experiencing and those observing pain both influence pain-related judgments.”

Bailey, S. J., McWilliams, L. A., & Dick, B. D. (2011, November 21). Expanding the Social Communication Model of Pain: Are Adult Attachment Characteristics Associated With Observers’ Pain-Related Evaluations? Rehabilitation Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026237

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Wren


    November 30th, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    If I’m providing care to someone then my thinking and understanding of pain and a lot o other things would definitely play a role in how I provide the care-no doubt about it. But the aim should be to train care givers to try and out these things aside because your decisions may not be the best for the other person and a neutral stand is the best.

  • allen


    December 1st, 2011 at 2:36 AM

    a very important study because the subject being studied here has its implications on parenting styles and thereby the development of children and their personalities there on.its almost like a chain reaction.!

    parents are primary caregivers for any child and how they provide care matters a lot as to how the child will grow and develop.

  • Caroline


    December 1st, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    needless to say that there are some folks who are not cut out to be caregivers. if they were never given that care themselves and do not have any way of knowing how to relate to others then how are they supposed to know how to give that out to someone else? they had no model or guide to teach them how.

  • lanny


    December 2nd, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    although not all are like that,often people who have had a troubled childhood with poor relationship with their parents find it hard to go about parenting themselves. this can definitely be overcome but then that can happen only when the individual identifies and accept that he or she needs to get help.

  • Bryson


    December 2nd, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    Being a caregiver is a lot of hard work, and it definitely takes the right person to fulfill that role.

    Sadly there are too few of the right sort of people who choose this profession, for a number of reasons that we can all think of.

    And even more unfortunately, families who need those to help care for their family members are then forced to choose candidates from the bottom of the barrel so to speak.

    That’s when you hear stories of elder abuse etc. when this care has been given over to the wrong hands, and someone who does not care or is not capable has been handed a role that they are not educated about or equipped to handle.

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