Advances in Applied Sociology
2014. Vol.4, No.1, 15-19
Published Online January 201 4 in SciRes (
The Prediction of Social Problem-Solving Skills Based on Birth
Order and Attachment Styles
Khadije h A bolmaa li1, Leila Keivan2, Bita Ajilchi3
1Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology, Roudehen Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran
2MA in General Psychology, Science and Research Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran
3Department of Psychology, Faculty of Human Science, Science and Research Branch University, Islamic Azad
University (IA U), Te h ran , Iran
Email: *
Received December 2nd, 2013; revised January 2nd, 2014; accepted January 9th, 2014
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The purpose of this research was to predict social problem-solving skills in two dimensions (functional
and dysfunctional), based on birth order and attachment styles in university students. For the study, 234
students were randomly selected at Azad University in the Science & Research Branch, who completed
two questionnaires: Hazen & Shaver’s Attachment Styles Inventory (AAI) and D’Zurilla et al.’s Social
Problem Solving Skills Inventory-Revised (SPSI_R). Data were analyzed with multiple regression and
MANOVA tests. The results revealed that avoidant and anxious attachment styles had significant and
positive relationship with dysfunctional social problem solving, and had significant and negative rela-
tionship with functional social problem solving skills; and birth order significantly predicted dysfunction-
al social problem solving. Also, a comparison of the first and last children showed that a significant dif-
ference existed between the mean of first and last children in avoidant attachment style (first children
were higher than that of last children). But there is no significant difference between first and last children
in the dimensions of social problem-solving skills.
Keywords: Social Problem-Solving Skills; Attachment Styles; Birth Order
During history, psychologists, philosophers and educational
practitioners have stated that the ability to solve problems is
one of the most crucial issues related to humankind’s welfare.
Social problem solving is the process by which people attempt
to identify or discover effective or functional solutions to prob-
lems that they experience in everyday living. Good or effective
problem solvers are likely to function more competently and
experience less psychological distress when encountering dif-
ficult or stressful problems as compared to poor or ineffective
problem solvers (D’Zurilla, Nezu, & M aydeu-Olivares, 2002: p.
1). Social problem solving (SPS) is a cognitive-behavioral pro-
cess and is a synonym for coping with stress and interpersonal
communication. In D’Zurilla et al.’s model, SPS is measured in
5 scales: Positive Problem Orientation (PPO), Negative Prob-
lem Orientation (NPO), Rational Problem Solving (RPS), Im-
pulsivity/Carelessness Style (ICS) and Avoidant Style (AS)
(Chang, D’Zurilla, & Sanna, 2004). PPO and RPS are effective
problem-solving mechanisms and AS, ICS and NPO are inef-
fective or poor problem-solving mechanisms. PPO is a con-
structive problem-solving cognitive set that involves the gener-
al disposition to: appraise a problem as a “challenge”, believe
that problems are solvable (optimism), believe in one’s per-
sonal ability to solve problems successfully (believe that suc-
cessful problem solving takes time and effort), and commit
oneself to solving problems with dispatch rather than avoiding
them. In contrast, NPO is a dysfunctional or inhibitive cogni-
tive-emotional set that involves the general tendency to view a
problem as a significant threat to well-being, to doubt one’s
own personal ability to solve problems successfully, and to
become easily frustrated and upset when confronted with prob-
lems. RPS is a constructive problem-solving style that is de-
fined as the rational, deliberate, and systematic application of
effective problem-solving skills. IPS is a dysfunctional prob-
lem-solving pattern characterized by active attempts to apply
problem-solving strategies and techniques, but these attempts
are narrow, impulsive, careless, hurried, and incomplete (D’Zu-
rilla et al., 2002).
AS is another dysfunctional problem-solving pattern charac-
terized by procrastination, passivity or inaction and dependency.
The avoidant problem solver prefers to avoid problems rather
than confront them head on, puts off problem solving as long as
possible, waits for problems to resolve themselves, and at-
tempts to shift the responsibility for solving his or her problems
to other people (Chang et al., 2004: p. 15). Undoubtedly, one of
the most important changes in modern and contemporary psy-
chology fields is the development of the Bowlby Attachment
Theory; attachment is an emotional bond to another person and
*Corresponding author.
is used to describe a special kind of relationship between two
people, which can be referred as a type of affection bond, for
example, a baby seeks closeness to someone. This has a great
role in the emotional development of children. According to the
Bowlby theory, the process of attachment is one of the most
vital prerequisites for effective development (Ghorbani, 2002).
Ainsworth et al. (1978) described three major styles of attach-
ment: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, and
avoidant-insecure attachment. Later, Main and Solomon (1986)
proposed that inconsistent behavior on the part of parents
might be a contributing factor in this style of attachment. In
later research, Main and Hesse (1990) argued that parents who
acted as figures of both fear and reassurance to a child contri-
buted to a disorganized attachment style. Because the child
feels both comforted and frightened by the parents’ confusion
People with a secure attachment style have a considerable
difference in their approach to overcoming problems in com-
parison with people with anxiety or avoidant attachment styles.
Based on their theory, secure people show little sign of mental
problems when they are faced with problems. The experience
of a secure and supportive relationship with the mother in
childhood makes people more secure and enables them to
achieve high potential self-confidence resources in this regard.
These people will be more able to accept personal and social
responsibilities because they are more able to contend with hard
situations and problems. They can also find better solutions for
their pitfalls (Gillath, Mikulincher, & Shaver, 2001). Fullam
(2002) also stated that people with secure attachments acted
better in their interpersonal relations, solving social problems,
challenging tensions, and controlling their excitement better
than people with insecure attachment. These people also tended
to have better physical and spiritual health as well. The impact
of attachment on cognitive processes has a relationship with the
quality and quantity of a person’s received stimulants. In fact,
secure children discover that their environment is secure in
comparison with insecure ones. The degree of received infor-
mation and stimulants in these children is higher than that in in-
secure children and this makes them able to apply high-poten-
tial verbal, imaginary and communicative skills (Vermigli &
Toni, 2004).
The link between secure and fearful attachment, and social
loneliness was mediated, in part, by social skills (DiTommaso,
Barnnen-McNulty, Ross, & Burgess, 2003).
Related Literature
Allen (2002) showed t hat the students’ adjust ment had a po si-
tive relationship with the attachment style of adults and the
relationship between insecure attachments was negative with
social a djustment. He s howed that sec ure attachme nt was a sig-
nificant predictor for the students’ social problem-solving skills.
Vafaeian (2006) carried out a study of the relationship between
social skills and students’ attachment styles and showed that
there was a significance relationship between their attachment
styles and social skills; in other words, when the scores of the
students in the secure style were increased, it influenced their
social skills. On the other hand, increasing the avoidant and
ambivalent style scores reduced the social skills. Besharat &
Shalchi (2007) emphasized the significant relationship between
attachment styles and stress-coping mechanisms. They conclud-
ed that there was a relationship between secure attachment
styles with emotional strategies for coping with stress. Kobak,
et al. (1993) showed that there was a positive relationship be-
tween i nsecure attac hment and the ability to problem-solve and
the experience of anger. Another research paper, with the aim
of studying the relationship between attachment styles and
stress-coping strategies with anger control among the students,
indicated that there was a direct relationship between problem-
based stress coping strategy and secure attachment, and emo-
tional coping stress with insecure attachment (Rafiee-Tari,
2008). Alfred Adler, an Australian psychologist and contempo-
rary with Sigmund Freud and Karl Yong, stated that birth order
influenced people’s personalities. Because the birth order caus-
es children to have different attitudes towards their parents,
they will have different childhood situations assisting in their
personality formation. Adler (cited in Harris, 2006) stated that
birth order had a positive impact on lifestyle. The results of a
study by Zaeri (2003) had the aim of the determination of group
acceptance relations hips and social skills wit h birth order among
high school students, and showed that there was no relationship
between the social skills of young people according to birth
order. Also, another study stated that birth order did not impac t
on social skill dimensions (Riggio & Sotoodeh, 1989).
The main question of this study is whether social problem-
solving skills can be predicted by birth order and attachment
styles in adults.
Research hypotheses are:
1) The birth order and attachment styles can predict social
problem-solving in two dimensions of functional and dysfunc-
tional styles.
2) There is a significant difference between attachment styles
and social problem-solving skills of the first and last child.
The method of this research is descriptive. The statistical
population included the whole student population of Tehran’s
Research and Science University during 2012-2013. The sam-
ple was randomly selected by a cluster method. The study in-
volved 155 girls and 234 boys.
Adults’ Attachment Styles Inventory: (AAI)
This questionnaire was devised by Hazen and Shaver (1987)
and has been used in Iran on the nurses of governmental hos-
pitals of Isfahan City (Rahimian et al., 2006). This question-
naire was a self-report scale, which included 15 items. The
scoring of the test was based on the Likert scale from never (0)
to fairly always (4). The scores of the sub-scale attachment
were obtained by the mean five questions in every sub-scale of
the test, as follows: To determine the attachment style of every
person, the digit values of the choices related to every level
were summed together and then divided by 5 in this case. The
subjects were asked to choose questions defining their traits
better in this regard. The explanatory factor analysis of this
questionnaire was carried out by Collins and Read (1990) and
three factors of attachment were extracted in this case.
Short Form of Social Problem-Solving Revised Version:
In order to evaluate the ability of the participants’ social
problem-solving skills, a short form of 25 questions devised by
D’Zurilla, Nezu and Mydieu-Elivares standardized by Taghilou
(2009) was applied in this case. This questionnaire had five
sub-scales, these sub-scales are: Positive orientation towards
the problem, Negative orientation towards the problem, rational
problem-solving style, Avoidant style and Impulsivitycareless-
ness styles. The whole coefficients of the above mentioned
items were as follows, respectively: 0.68, 0.75, 0.62, 0.68, and
0.68. The total coefficients obtained for the related tool were
0.69. In addition, after processing the model from the con-
firmed factorial analysis, the indices of processing were ob-
tained at suitable levels for the related test (Taghilou, 2009)
Three scales were for the inefficient or non-functional methods
in relation to the avoidant style and Impulsivity-carelessness
style affairs and two scales were subjected to the efficient or
functional methods of the positive orientation in terms of the
problem-solving process (Abolmaali, 2010).
In Table 1 descriptive indices of studying variables were re-
According to the above table, it can be stated that all of the
variables tended to normal distribution, due to skewness and
kurtosis which were between 1 and +1.
First hypothesis: B irth order and attachment styles (avoidant,
anxious and secure) can predict social problem solving (in 2
dimensions: functional and non-functional) in students of the
For the testing of this hypothesis in this research, multiple
regression analysis with a stepwise method was used.
According to Table 2, the β coefficient showed that avoidant
and anxious styles have significantly negative relationships
with functional social problem solving, whereas avoidant and
anxious styles have significantly positive relationships with
dysfunctional social problem solving. Also, birth order signifi-
cantly predict dysfunctional social problem solving, so that in
first children dysfunctional social problem solving, more than
last children.
Second hypothesis: there is a significant difference between
first and last children in attachment styles.
For consideration of this hypothesis, firstly the assumptions
of MANOVA were evaluated, such as homogeneity of variance
and covariance and homogeneity of slope of regression line,
and then MANOVA was used for analysis of the data.
As shown in Table 3, because value of Wilk’s Lambada
(0.980) and value of F = 1.843, it could be said that the effect of
the group on the social problem solving and attachment styles
is not significant and it can be stated that the difference of the
combination of dependent variables in the groups is not signif-
icant. As a result, there is no significant difference between
combination of components of attachment styles in first and last
children. The results of the test between subject effects for the
evaluation of the effect of each dependent variable are given
separately in Table 4.
As shown in Table 4, the between-groups tests showed that
differences in avoidant skills are significant (sig < 0.05) and the
mean scores in the first children were more than last children.
The third hypothesis was that there is a significant difference
between first and last children in social problem-solving skills.
For consideration of this hypothesis, firstly the assumptions
of MANOVA were evaluated, such as the homogeneity of va-
Table 1.
The descriptive indices of attachement styles and social problem solv-
Descriptive Indices of variables
Mean Standard
Deviation Skewness kurtosis
Secure attachment style 3.29 0.592 0.041 0.027
Avoidant attachment style 2.73 0.715 0.214 0.068
Anxious attachme nt st yle 2.62 0.733 0.163 0.562
Functional social
problem s ol ving 3.50 0.649 0.286 0.143
Dysfunctional social
problem s ol ving 2.24 0.583 0.635 0.278
Table 2.
Summery of regression analysis for prediction of social problem solv-
ing (functional and disfunctio nal) b ased on attache ment styles (avoid ant,
anxious and secur e) and birth order.
prediction of social problem s ol ving based on attachm ent
Spsa B β t sig
Constant functional 1.761 - 4.62 0.000
dysfunctional 1.158 - 4.92 0.000
Secure style functional 0.063 0.062 0.0764 0.446
dysfunctional 0.036 0.037 0.572 0.568
functional 0.181 0.150 1.999 0.046
dysfunctional 0.108 0.138 2.005 0.042
Anxious style functional 0.144 0.173 2.107 0.037
dysfunctional 0.213 0.276 4.426 0.000
Birth order functional 0.010 0.008 0.107 0.915
dysfunctional 0.139 0.131 1.993 0.048
asocial problem solving. functional SPSS {R = 0.210; R2 = 0.044; adjusted R2 =
0.034; F = 4.3333** P < 0.05, **; P <0.01}. dysfunctional SPSS {R = 0.315; R2 =
0.099; adjusted R2 = 0.09 0; F = 10.55** P < 0.05, **; P < 0.01}.
Table 3.
Multivariate test.
effects Wilks Lamda test
value F df df o f error sig size effect
sex 0.980 1.843 3 273 0.140 0.020
Table 4.
Between subjects effects.
Between subjects effects
variable Ss df1 df2 MS F
Birth Avoidant sty l e 2.321 1 275 2.32 4.62
order Secure t style 0.08 1 275 0.08 0.225
Anxious style 0.144 1 275 0.144 0.253
riance and covariance, and homogeneity of slope of regression
line, and then MANOVA was used for data analysis.
As shown in Tabl e 5, because the significance levels related
to tests of MANOVA (Wilk’s Lambda = 0.981, F = 2.648 and p
= 0.073) it can be said that the effect of the group on social
problem solving is not significant and it can be stated that the
difference between the combination of components of social
problem solving in groups is not significant. As a result, there is
no significant difference between components of social prob-
lem-solving skills in the first and last children. The results test
of between subjects effects for the evaluation the effect of each
dependent variable are given separately in Table 6.
As shown in Table 6, the between-groups differences in
functional and dysfunctional social problem solving are not
significant (sig > 0.05) and the mean scores in the first and last
children are not significant.
The findings of the present study showed that avoidant and
anxious attachment styles had significant and positive relation-
ship with dysfunctional social problem solving, and had signifi-
cant and negative relationship with functional social problem
solving skills. The results are consistent with that of Besharat &
Shalchi (2007), Rafiee-Tari (2008) and Kobak, et al. (1993).
Also results revealed that differences in avoidant attachment
styles in first and last children were significant, so that in the
first children mea ns of avoidant a ttachment style were more t han
last children; and differences in functional and dysfunctional
social problem solving were not significant in the first and last
children. Besharat & Shalchi (2007) emphasized on t he signifi-
cant relationship between attachment styles and stress-coping
The obtained results of the present study are consistent with
the studies carried out by Kobak et al. (1993) and Rafiee Tari
(2008). It seems that the insecure attachment style can cause the
formation of weak communicative skills, making inefficient
social problem-solving skills. In other words, they will have
weak social cognition in this regard. Social cognition requires
social information regarding the most accurate processing in
this case because it should be able to respond to the require-
ments in this related setting (Abolmaali, 2010). Hence, people
with insecure attachment styles will have weak social problem-
solving skills.
The results of the present study show that there is a differ-
ence between the first and last offspring in terms of avoidant
attachment styles; in other words, the first offspring often uses
the avoidant method. The results of the research can be consis-
tent with the viewpoints of Adler who believed that the first
offspring often felt the changes in their own establishment in
the family. Some research findings show that the older children
are usually susceptible to anxiety and this may reflect the lack
of experience and confidence among these people and parents
(Karimi, 2003). This lack of experience in the mothers may be
the first essential reason why the insecure attachment style may
be formed among children in this regard.
Also, the results showed that there was no obvious difference
between the first and last offspring in terms of the social prob-
lem-solving skills variables. The findings of the study are con-
sistent with research of Zaeri (2003), Riggio and Sotoodeh’s
(1989). It can be said that due to, on the one hand, the impor-
tance of the exciting experiences of childhood in the formation
of excitement, and on the other hand, increased statistics of life
problems, it is suggested that educational courses could be very
Table 5.
Multivariate test.
effects Wilks Lamda test
value F df df o f error sig size effect
sex 0.981 2.648 2 247 0.073 0.019
Table 6.
Between subjects effects.
Between subjects effects
variable Ss df1 df2 MS F
Birth Functional 0.557 1 275 0.557 1.227
order Dysfunctional 0.838 275 0.838 2.359
effective for mothers to enable awareness of their role in nur-
turing their children to promote healthy attachment styles. This
will help mothers to improve their interaction skills with their
children and help their children to be secure in their attachment
to them.
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