Language use in the Adult Attachment Interview: Evidence for attachment-specific emotion regulation

Jessica L. Borelli, Daryn H. David, Anne Rifkin-Graboi, David A. Sbarra, Matthias R. Mehl, Linda C. Mayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Adult attachment classification is traditionally based on qualitative coding of participants' discourse about their attachment history. Word count-based analyses have proven useful for assessing emotional states from narrative. To expand the understanding of how language is used in emotion regulation processes related to attachment, the authors assess 102 college-aged adults' language on the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI). Autonomous adults use more emotion words and, in particular, negative emotion words. Preoccupied adults use more anger words. Disorganized adults use more experientially connected language and more death/dying words, but also use more second-person pronouns when discussing loss. Language use during the AAI explains variability in self-reported emotional distress above and beyond attachment classifications. Results are discussed in terms of their relevance to emotion and attachment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-37
Number of pages15
JournalPersonal Relationships
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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