2012. Vol.3, No.9, 675-680
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.39102
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 675
Affect Consciousness and Adult Attachment
Börje Lech1*, Gerhard Andersson2,3, Rolf Holmqvist1
1Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
2Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Swedish Institute for Disability Research,
Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
3Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Psychiatry Section, Karolinska Institutet, Solna, Sweden
Received February 22nd, 2012; revised May 8th, 2012; accepted July 2nd, 2012
The concept of affect consciousness refers to the ability to perceive, reflect upon, express and respond to
one’s own or other individuals’ affective experiences. The aim of this study was to investigate how affect
consciousness and adult attachment are related. Three clinical groups (eating disorders, relational prob-
lems, and stress-related problems), and one non-clinical group (total N = 82) completed the Attachment
Style Questionnaire and were interviewed using the Affect Consciousness Interview—Self/Other. Results
showed associations between high affect consciousness and secure attachment, and between low affect
consciousness and insecure attachment. Moreover, attachment style was predicted by consciousness about
others’ and own affects in general, and specifically by consciousness about others’ anger and guilt, and by
own joy. Affect consciousness as a potential dimension or moderator of attachment merits further inves-
Keywords: Affect; Affect Consciousness; Affect Consciousness Interview—Self/Other; ACI-S/O
Attachment Style; ASQ; Emotion
To consciously perceive, reflect on, express and respond to
one’s own or other individuals’ affect experiences is most
likely beneficial for mental health and for how well interper-
sonal relationships are handled. A proposed joint label for these
abilities is Affect Consciousness (Monsen, Eilertsen, Melgård,
& Ödegård, 1996; Lech, Andersson, & Holmqvist, 2008). Af-
fect consciousness focuses on affects as organizers of self-
experience and interpersonal interactions. Lech et al. (2008)
found that consciousness about own and others’ affects, assessed
in a semi-structured interview, was associated with organization
of self-experience (i.e., self-image) as well as with conceptions of
social interaction, and reports of psychological distress.
Another concept that has been associated with the regulation
of affects, and which has been applied in the study of interper-
sonal interaction and self-experience, is that of attachment
(Feeney, Noller, & Roberts, 1998). Although based on a theory
about the early development of human beings (Bowlby, 1969),
attachment has been postulated to have implications for adult
intimate relationships and self-understanding (Bowlby, 1969;
Fonagy, 2001). Connected with attachment, the concept of
mentalization, implying the capacity to understand the com-
plexity of one’s own and others’ thoughts, intentions and af-
fects, has been described as a core aspect of adult attachment
(Bochard, Target, Lecours, Fonagy, Tremblay, Schater, & Stein,
2008; Eagle, 1997; Fonagy, 2001; Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist, &
Target, 2004; Fonagy & Target, 1998).
The relationship between the concepts of mentalization and
affect consciousness (Monsen et al., 1996) has been theoretic-
cally outlined by Mohaupt, Holgersen, Binder and Nielsen
(2006) and Choi-Kain and Gunderson (2008). The latter authors
suggest that the concepts of affect consciousness and mentali-
zation partly overlap. Using the concept mentalized affectivity
(Fonagy et al., 2002), they argue that affect consciousness con-
tributes to the regulation of affects, which leads to better capa-
city to develop a mentalizing stance towards affects. However,
Choi-Kain and Gunderson (2008) also argue that affect con-
sciousness focus more than mentalization on the explicit, con-
scious awareness and expression of affect states. Mohaupt et al.
(2006) also argue that there are great similarities between the
concepts, but that they differ in some respects. One difference
is that mentalization theory argues that affects are seen as de-
veloping in a relationship, primarily between the mother and
the infant, whereas the main focus of the affect consciousness
concept is the individuals’ perception and organization of his or
her own affects.
In order to encompass the interactional aspect of affect con-
sciousness, Lech et al. (2008) reconceptualized the concept of
affect consciousness to also capture the individual’s capacity to
consciously perceive, reflect on, and express or respond to af-
fect displays in other individuals. This new conceptualization of
affect consciousness thus comprises the original instrument
used to assess affect consciousness (Affect Consciousness In-
terview; Monsen et al., 1996) as well as questions intended to
capture the subject’s consciousness about others’ affects. This
addition of consciousness about others’ affects has the potential
to bring the concept of affect consciousness closer to the con-
cept of mentalization.
Two different principal ways to measure adult attachment
have emerged. One is primarily based in developmental psy-
chology and uses a semi-structured interview, the Adult At-
tachment Interview (AAI; George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985), to
rate attachment patterns by studying the individual’s ways of
describing their relationships with important persons in their
B. LECH ET AL.
life history (George et al., 1985). The other perspective mainly
utilizes self-report questionnaires to measure adult attachment.
This perspective mainly focuses on how attachment is repre-
sented in the content of thoughts and feelings. Despite their
common theoretical roots, the relations between the AAI and
self-rated attachment scales seem to be weak and the two tradi-
tions seem to measure and describe two different phenomena
(Roisman et al., 2007; Riggs, Paulson, Tunnell, Sahl, Atkison,
& Ross, 2007). Results on the AAI have been found to be con-
sistently associated with childhood attachment experiences
(Fraley, 2002), as measured by the Strange Situation procedure
(Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). On the contrary,
scores on self-report questionnaires of adult attachment have
been less strongly related to childhood attachment experiences
as measured by the Strange Situation procedure (Fraley, 2002).
Methodological differences (e.g., interview versus self-report)
can at least partly explain the discrepancy between AAI and
self-report questionnaires. On the other hand, self-report ques-
tionnaires seem to capture basic personality traits and some
aspects of adult functioning that are theoretically meaningful in
attachment theory, such as the self-evaluated capacity for adult
intimate or romantic relationships (Roisman et al., 2007), social
support and emotional status (Barry, Lakey, & Orehek, 2007)
and strategies of emotion regulation (Mikulincer & Shaver,
2005; Woodhouse & Gelso, 2008).
Different styles of self-rated attachment seem to be related to
emotions in rather distinct ways. The results from a study by
Searle and Meara (1999) showed that emotional expressivity,
attention and intensity distinguished different attachment
groups. In a review by Mikulincer and Shaver (2005), the con-
clusion was that securely attached individuals displayed more
differentiated emotions than insecurely attached individuals,
and that they used them in a more beneficent and less defensive
way. Barry et al. (2007) found that perceived social support,
high levels of negative affects and low levels of positive affects
were linked to insecure attachment. A study by Woodhouse and
Gelso (2008) indicated that higher levels of attachment anxiety
were associated with regulation of negative affect within the
first session of therapy.
Hence, and in line with Roisman et al. (2007), we will regard
self-rated adult attachment as a variable of interest despite its
loose connection with childhood attachment and AAI. Accord-
ing to Feeney, Noller and Hanrahan (1994), self-assessed se-
cure attachment as measured by the Attachment Style Ques-
tionnaire (ASQ; Feeney et al., 1994) implies that the person has
high self-esteem. Briefly, attachment theory predicts that per-
sons who have high scores on the ASQ are confident about
relationships and have an ability to be both close and separate
from other important persons without being worried or anxious.
Closeness is enjoyable and they see relations as important. The
attachment style that is labeled avoidant implies that the person
is worried about people getting too close. High scores on avoi-
dant attachment style value achievement more than relation-
ships and are uncomfortable with closeness. Persons with self-
rated anxious attachment styles are characterized by contradict-
tory feelings about relationships. They need approval from
others and are therefore preoccupied with their relationships;
they eagerly want closeness but are at the same time not com-
fortable with it. Moreover, they lack confidence in themselves
and others. These predictions have received empirical support
(Belsky & Cassidy, 1994).
The present study focused on the relation between affect
consciousness and self-reported attachment. No previous study
appears to have analyzed this link. In the present study, we
study associations between self-rated attachment patterns and
the ability to be conscious about own and others’ affects. The
latter ability was measured in a structured interview (Monsen et
al., 1996; Lech et al., 2008). In addition, we analyzed whether
or not self-rated attachment could be predicted from the results
of the structured affect consciousness interview which had a
focus on both consciousness about own and consciousness
about others’ affects. It was hypothesized that affect con-
sciousness would be associated with the self-rated attachment
patterns, with higher levels of affect consciousness being asso-
ciated with secure attachment and lower levels with insecure
Participants and Procedure
In order to have a wide range of participants amongst whom
attachment patterns and levels of affect consciousness could be
expected to differ, women with and without known clinical
problems were included in the study. A heterogeneous sample
was therefore recruited in clinical contexts and from the com-
munity. There were 48 women with eating disorders (e.g., bu-
limia and anorexia), eleven with severe relational problems (i.e.,
under care for not being able to manage their child or their
children), and ten with stress related problems (e.g., burnout
and on long-term sick leave). Finally, we included thirteen
women without any known psychiatric or relational problems.
The mean age of the total sample was 29 years (SD = 10.37;
range 15 to 62). There were no significant age differences be-
tween the subgroups.
All participants provided informed consent. Before being in-
terviewed with the Affect Consciousness Interview—Self/Other
(ACI-S/O) the participants were given a self-report inventory,
the Attachment Style Questionnaire (ASQ; Feeney et al., 1994).
The Affect Consciousness Interview—Self/Other (ACI-S/O)
is a semi-structured interview in which the interviewer asks
about seven affects: interest/excitement, enjoyment/joy, fear/
panic, anger/rage, humiliation/shame, sadness/despair and
guilt/remorse (Lech et al., 2008). The answers are scored on a
scale from 1 to 10 points on each of eight dimensions of con-
sciousness, where 10 is the highest possible degree of affect
consciousness. The eight dimensions of affect consciousness
are: a) Awareness of the individual’s own affects: how does the
subject recognize the affects? b) Tolerance of the individual’s
own affects: to what extent does the subject let the affects im-
pact upon him or her? c) Non-verbal expression of the affects:
how does the person express his or her affective reactions non-
verbally in different interpersonal settings? d) Verbal expres-
sion of the affects: how does the subject tell others in different
situations about his or her affective reactions? e) Awareness of
others’ affective reaction: how does the subject notice or recog-
nize others’ affective reactions? f) Tolerance of others’ affect-
tive reactions: to what extent does the subject let the affect of
others impact upon him or her? g) Non-verbal: how does the
person respond to others’ affective reactions non-verbally in
different interpersonal settings? h) Verbal response to others’
affective reaction: how does the subject verbally respond to
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
B. LECH ET AL.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 677
others’ affective reactions in different situations?
Nine raters were used, with at least two raters for each of the
82 interviews. Six raters were psychology students and three
were graduates and experienced psychologists. Eight raters also
performed interviews. They were all trained both in the proce-
dure of interviewing and of rating the interview. Interrater reli-
ability for ACI-S/O (both own and others’ affects) as assessed
with intraclass correlation (ICC) has been found to be 0.95
(Lech et al., 2008).
Attachment was measured with the Attachment Style Ques-
tionnaire (ASQ; Feeney et al., 1994), which has been translated
into Swedish (ASQ-sw; Håkansson & Tengström, 1996) and
contains 40 items. The ASQ is intended to measure dimensions
central to adult attachment, including different styles or patterns
of attachment. Moreover, the ASQ has been designed to be
suitable for both young adolescents as well as older individuals
without a requirement of prior experience of romantic relation-
ships. The questions in ASQ can be analyzed in two separate
factors (secure and insecure attachment), but can also be ana-
lyzed on the basis of a three factor structure in line with
Hazan’s and Shavers’ (1987) conceptualization of attachment
(e.g., secure, avoidant, and anxious). Feeney et al. (1994) re-
ported internal consistencies for the English version and found
adequate Cronbach alphas for the subscales Security (0.83),
Avoidance (0.83), and Anxiety (0.85). The test-retest reliability
over a period of approximately ten weeks was 0.74, 0.75 and
0.80 for the three subscales. The internal consistency for the
three subscales in the Swedish version is in the same range as
for the English original version (Håkanson & Tengström,
Descriptive Statistics and Correlations
Means, standard deviations and significant group differences
on the ASQ and ACI-S/O are presented in Table 1.
The results in Table 1 show that individuals in the non-
clinical group had significantly higher ratings of secure attach-
ment and that those in the patient groups had significantly
higher levels of insecure attachment. The table also shows that
the individuals in the non-clinical group had significantly
higher ratings than the patient group of consciousness about
own and others’ affects irrespectively of which specific affect
they were interviewed about.
Table 2 shows the correlations between the affect ratings and
scores on the three subscales of the Attachment Style Ques-
The results in Table 2 show significant correlations between
almost all scores on ACI-S/O and the scores on the ASQ scales.
The exception was consciousness about own guilt which did
not correlate with any of the ASQ subscales. Moreover, con-
sciousness about others’ guilt did not correlate significantly
with the avoidant attachment scale. All the significant correla-
tions between affect consciousness and the secure attachment
Descriptive statistics for the three subscales of the attachment style questionnaire and rating of the consciousness about specific own and others’ af-
fects in the affect consciousness interview—self/other in the clinical (N = 69) and the non clinical (N = 13) groups.
Clinical group Non clinical group
ASQ M SD M SD t-value significance
Secure 3.30 1.15 4.91 0.70 4.86 p < 0.001
Avoidant 3.44 0.65 2.41 0.88 5.38 p < 0.001
Anxious 4.40 0.88 2.85 0.71 6.01 p < 0.001
Interest 4.77 0.99 6.89 1.41 6.59 p < 0.001
Joy 4.94 0,95 7.27 1.08 7.88 p < 0.001
Fear 4.24 0.89 5.84 1.26 5.50 p < 0.001
Anger 4.14 0.88 6.08 1.33 6.66 p < 0.001
Shame 3.47 0.83 4.76 1.50 4.44 p < 0.001
Sadness 3.95 0.92 5.91 1.09 6.85 p < 0.001
Guilt 3.53 0.83 4.31 1.92 2.39 p < 0.05
Interest 4.46 1.07 6.49 1.27 6.13 p < 0.001
Joy 4.63 0.79 6.55 1.19 7.37 p < 0.001
Fear 4.17 1.15 5.93 1.28 5.00 p < 0.001
Anger 4.02 0.78 5.71 1.16 6.60 p < 0.001
Shame 3.61 1.23 4.86 1.55 3.22 p < 0.01
Sadness 4.42 0.91 6.37 0.96 7.04 p < 0.001
Guilt 3.36 1.17 4.93 1.10 4.47 p < 0.001
B. LECH ET AL.
Correlations between ACI-S/O and ASQ scores (N = 82).
Consciousness Secure Avoidant Anxious
About attachment attachment attachment
Interest 0.41** –0.41** –0.41**
Joy 0.46** –0.44** –0.48**
Fear 0.42** –0.47** –0.33**
Anger 0.43** –0.41** –0.38**
Shame 0.30** –0.31** –0.26*
Sadness 0.30** –0.42** –0.31**
Guilt 0.08 0.00 –0.07
Interest 0.27* –0.28* –0.37**
Joy 0.38** –0.38** –0.44**
Fear 0.40** –0.32** –0.31**
Anger 0.53** –0.53** –0.50**
Shame 0.29** –0.23* –0.22*
Sadness 0.47** –0.46** –0.46**
Guilt 0.28* –0.12 –0.24*
Note: *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01.
scale were positive and all the significant correlations between
affect consciousness and the avoidant and anxious attachment
scales were negative.
Consciousness about own and others’ affects was used in
multiple regression analyses in order to analyze its contribution
to the three different ASQ subscales. The analyses were made
separately for consciousness about own and about others’ af-
First, the subscale measuring secure attachment was used as
a dependent variable. The regression for consciousness about
own affects was significant [F(7,73) = 4.2, , p <
0.001], but there was no significant contribution from any sin-
gle affect. The regression for consciousness about others’ af-
fects was also significant [F(7,73) = 6.3, , p <
0.0001]. There was a significant contribution from conscious-
ness of others’ anger (β = 0.39, p < 0.01).
Secondly we analyzed the results for avoidant attachment.
The regression using all the seven own affects as independent
variables was significant [F(7,73) = 4.7, , p <
0.0001], but there was no significant contribution from any
single affect. The regression using the seven others’ affects was
also significant [F(7,73) = 6.6, , p < 0.0001], and
there was a significant contribution from consciousness of oth-
ers’ anger (β = –0.49, p < 0.001), and others’ guilt (β = 0.32, p
Finally, the subscale measuring anxious attachment was
analyzed. The regression for the seven own affects was signifi-
cant [F(7,73) = 3.5, , p < 0.01], and there was one
significant contribution by own joy (β = 0.35, p < 0.05). The re-
gression for the seven others’ affects was also significant
[F(7,73) = 5.0,
, p < 0.0001], and there was a sig-
nificant contribution from consciousness of others’ anger (β =
–0.34, p < 0.05).
The aim of this study was to analyze if affect consciousness,
as assessed in a structured interview, was associated with
self-rated adult attachment patterns. It was hypothesized that
there would be associations between high affect consciousness
and secure attachment, and between low affect consciousness
and insecure attachment. This prediction was confirmed. We
also wanted to explore whether consciousness about own and
others’ affects, on both a global and an affect-specific level,
were predictive of different patterns of self-rated adult attach-
ment. Here the results were less straightforward, but interesting
Significant differences in self-reported attachment style were
found between the clinical group and the non-clinical group.
The clinical group had significantly higher levels of insecure
attachment and the non-clinical group had significantly higher
levels of secure attachment. The non-clinical group also had
significantly higher consciousness about own and others’ af-
fects than the patient group regardless of which single affect
they were interviewed about. This was in line with our expecta-
tions. As mentioned, the results also showed several significant
correlations between affect consciousness and the three attach-
ment patterns. Secure attachment was associated with all the
affects except for guilt, and the insecure attachment patterns
were associated with the same variables but in the opposite
direction. This is in line with the earlier reported finding by
Barry et al. (2007) in which high negative affects and low posi-
tive affects were found to be linked to insecure attachment. The
results can also be interpreted in light of the review by Miku-
lincer and Shaver (2005), where one implication is that securely
attached persons have more conscious means of access to their
affects than insecurely attached persons.
Regression analyses showed that there were significant con-
tributions from both consciousness of own and others’ affects
to the variance in the different attachment styles. The contribu-
tion from consciousness about others’ affects appeared some-
what higher than the contribution from consciousness about
own affects. In addition to the contribution from the over-all
consciousness of affects, some single categorical affects inde-
pendently contributed to the variance in attachment ratings. Joy
was the only single own affect which contributed by itself to
any of the attachment variants (to anxious attachment). Con-
sciousness about others’ guilt contributed significantly to the
variance in avoidant attachment style and consciousness about
others’ anger contributed significantly to the variance in all
Consciousness about others’ affects, and especially others’
anger apparently had special importance for the variation in
self-assessed attachment style. Consciousness about others’
guilt also contributed significantly to the variance in avoidant
attachment style, and in a similar manner consciousness about
own joy explained variance in the scores relating to anxious
attachment. To be less able to manage own joy seems to con-
tribute to an anxious attachment style and to be more able to
manage others’ guilt seems to contribute to an avoidant attach-
ment style. In other words, to be able to to express and experi-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
B. LECH ET AL.
ence own joy but not notice and act in response to others’ guilt
seems to be useful as it protects against an insecure attachment
style. One way to interpret these findings is that if a person is
not able to perceive, tolerate and/or express their joyful affects,
then a preoccupation with the other person, and perhaps espe-
cially the other persons feeling of guilt in the relationship can
ensue in a need for approval from the other. If a person is pre-
occupied by managing others’ guilt it might lead to discomfort
with closeness and that the person is tuned in for achievement
rather than relationships.
Consciousness about others’ anger contributed significantly
to all three patterns of attachment and explained a larger part of
the variance than any other single affect. To be able to experi-
ence and respond to others’ anger consequently seems to be
particularly important for developing a secure attachment style
and defending oneself against insecure attachment. This obser-
vation is in line with findings in Feeney (1995), who found that
emotional control was less prominent in the relationship be-
tween two securely attached spouses than in relationships
where both partners were insecurely attached. In a follow up
study, a regression analysis of partner’s control of anger, sad-
ness and anxiety showed that the negative emotions accounted
for parts of the variance in relationship satisfaction “to a greater
degree than what was explained by attachment dimensions”
(Feeney et al., 1998). Satisfaction was, in fact, directly linked to
the partner’s control of anger. Feeney et al. (1998) concluded
that the result should not be interpreted to imply that it is posi-
tive to suppress anger, but rather that it is the way in which
anger is expressed and experienced that matters. In fact, ade-
quate communication of anger may even strengthen the rela-
tionship between the angry person and the person who is the
target of the anger (Izard, 1991). This is, of course, dependent
of the way anger is expressed but also dependent on the han-
dling of anger by the targeted person. In a study by Mikulincer
(1998), insecure persons were more prone to attribute hostile
intent to the partner than were secure persons. If a person who
is the target of anger has a problem in handling others’ affects,
and especially others’ anger, this seems to interfere with their
way of being in close relations. If a person is able to reflect on
the experience of another person’s affects and especially the
other person’s anger, they seem to be more able to feel secure
in close relations. This might of course also influence how the
individual attributes the others’ intent.
There are limitations that should be considered when inter-
preting our results.
Firstly, the cross-sectional nature of this study restricts the
possibility of drawing any conclusions regarding causality.
Secondly, a choice was made to regress the affects on the at-
tachment subscales. This choice could be questioned as the data
were cross-sectional. Lastly, the participants were both patients
and non-clinical individuals. This can be seen both as a prob-
lem and as an asset. While a broad sample increases the likeli-
hood of getting variation in affect consciousness and attach-
ment style, the individual subgroups were too small to allow
subgroup analyses in the correlation analyses.
In conclusion there were associations between high affect
consciousness and secure attachment, and between low affect
consciousness and insecure attachment. The contribution of
consciousness about others’ affects was somewhat higher than
the contribution of consciousness about own affects. Con-
sciousness about others’ anger in particular had special impor-
tance for the variation in self-assessed attachment style. Con-
sciousness about others’ guilt contributed significantly to the
variance in avoidant attachment style, and own joy accounted
significantly for variance in the ratings of anxious attachment.
To be able to experience and respond to others’ affects and
especially anger consequently seems to contribute to the de-
velopment of a secure attachment style. A person’s problems
with handling affects and especially others’ anger may inter-
vene in his or her way of managing close relations.
These findings may have implications for psychological
treatment where affects and the regulation of affects in the
therapy relationship can be vital. A number of different psy-
chological methods aim especially at changing maladaptive
affective patterns. Examples are Mentalization-based therapy
(Bateman & Fonagy, 2003), Process-experiential therapy (Elli-
ott, Watson, Goldman, & Greenberg, 2004), Accelerated Expe-
riential Dynamic Psychotherapy (Fosha, 2000), Acceptance and
Commitment Therapy (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999), Dia-
lectical Behavior Therapy (Linehan, 1987a, 1987b, 1993) and
Brief Relational Therapy (Safran & Muran, 2000). Knowledge
about the relationship between specific affects or specific di-
mensions of affects and the capacity for interpersonal and inti-
mate relationships might be helpful to psychotherapists and
counselors using these therapies.
However, further research has to be carried out before any
more conclusive statements can be made about the relation
between adult attachment relationships and consciousness about
own and others’ affects and its implications for treatment and
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