Attachment to objects as compensation for close others' perceived unreliability

Lucas A. Keefer, Mark J. Landau, Zachary K. Rothschild, Daniel Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Attachment theory posits that close interpersonal relationships provide people with psychological security across the lifespan. Research shows that when people perceive that close others are unreliable, they may seek alternative, non-social sources of security (e.g., deities). Building on this work, the authors hypothesized that attachment to objects compensates for threatened attachment security when close others are unreliable. Participants primed with close others', but not strangers', unreliability reported increased attachment to belongings (Study 1), and this effect was mediated by feelings of attachment anxiety (concern over close others' availability), but not attachment avoidance (avoiding emotional dependence; Study 2), suggesting that object attachment compensates for the perception that close others are unreliable rather than consistently rejecting. In Study 3, when a valued belonging was removed, participants primed with uncertainty about their relationships showed increased separation anxiety and motivation to reunite with the belonging, regardless of the belonging's perceived importance for facilitating relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)912-917
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Attachment
  • Attachment anxiety
  • Attachment avoidance
  • Belongings
  • Materialism
  • Unreliability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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