Assessing an Attachment Model of Eating Behaviours


Attachment has frequently been acknowledged as an important factor in psychopathology. Particularly, attachment has been recognised as a key risk factor for eating disorder (ED) pathology, where those suffering from EDs have a strong prevalence of insecure attachments and low perceived parental care. Consequently, understanding how attachment influences ED development is important for both clinical prevention and treatment. Despite long-term research recognising attachment as a trait-like feature that is consistent from childhood, recent research has suggested that attachment may be changeable over time. This state-like component may influence presentations of psychopathology, due to context-specific changes in support-seeking. Research therefore should further assess the relationship between a state-based model of attachment and psychopathological conditions. Particularly, as trait-based attachment has been recognised as a risk factor for EDs, it is important to assess whether state-based attachment may additionally have an impact.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

This is an ongoing study that aims to investigate whether changes in state-based attachment influence eating behaviours. Specifically, we will assess whether feelings of low trust and insecurity in attachment relationships associated with increased eating disorder behaviours (e.g., binging, purging, restricting, and body dissatisfaction). Further, we will examine how other important factors of psychopathology, such as mood and emotion regulation, are associated with state-based attachment and eating disorder pathology


Participants included 101 first-year university students. Of these, 25 did not complete at least 50% of SEMA surveys and will therefore be excluded from the analyses.


For Part 1, participants completed an online questionnaire taking no longer than 30 minutes, which included demographic questions and standard self-report questionnaires assessing eating behaviours, trait attachment, and other psychopathology. For Part 2, participants downloaded the SEMA3 smartphone app, which was programmed to send them 6 short surveys a day over the course of 7 days.


Results are not yet available as data collection is ongoing. Because the data is nested (i.e., momentary smartphone surveys within people), data will be analysed with multilevel models. The analyses will be conducted using R.


By conducting an ecological momentary assessment, where participants can report daily attachment experiences, we will be able to view an overall picture of how attachment insecurity and eating behaviours may be related and maintained. Critically, the proposed study will be the first to assess the upcoming state-based theory of attachment for eating disorder symptoms, which will allow us to uniquely assess multiple elements of the attachment relationship that may influence eating disorder symptoms. Understanding the factors that impact current eating disorder behaviours will expand prevention and treatment options for those at risk of, or currently facing, eating disorders, particularly through the use of family therapies where current attachment relationships can be accentuated.