While we know that our relationship with our parents shapes the future relationships we build with peers and romantic partners, how does culture and family structure also impact these relationships? Attachment avoidance is associated with high independence and low reliance on others to meet one’s needs, thus lacking a positive model of self and negative model of other, and attachment anxiety is associated with concerns about availability and acceptance from a partner, maintaining a poor model of self and strong  model of other (1 & 2). These attachment types are first formed with an infant’s primary caregiver but what outside factors can influence the nature and expectations of these relationships? One’s culture has an important influence on social and developmental characteristics and therefore also on how that individual builds and values relationships. Because the role of family and independence differs between cultures, does attachment style differ too?

Family dynamics and communication patterns have been found to impact attachment characteristics and therefore security in one’s relationship. Open and expressive communication among family members is correlated with lower rates of attachment avoidance and anxiety (6). On the other hand, conformity conversation emphasizes a power imbalance between the parent and the child where there is an expectation for obedience and agreement to the views of the parent. This type of communication between parents and children has been positively related to attachment anxiety and can therefore hinder openness and desire for independent goals (6). These findings were also shown in a cross cultural study among Italian, Costa Rican, and Chinese adolescents and emphasize how family orientation and cultural values influence parent-child relationships. According to the study, Chinese culture highlights familial hierarchy and obedience while Italian and Costa Rican cultures encourage more autonomy and freedom for children (4). As a result of these different cultural values, they recorded more insecurity in the attachment between Chinese children and their parents compared to the other regions (4).

In accordance with the idea of high parent control comes the idea of overparenting which represents overinvolvement of the caregiver and lack of autonomy for the child (3). Previous research on this topic found that for the parent, their own attachment anxiety can lead to overparenting and this can consequently cause attachment avoidance in the child (3). Another study on harsh parental discipline and parent-child attachment explained that the use of corporal punishment and psychological aggression, commonly used in Western and Chinese cultures, could influence attachment between the parent and child (5). These findings suggest that higher levels of parental discipline impacted the way children develop peer relationships in the future and that these children had lower emotional connection to their parent (5). While these results cannot be generalized to entire cultures or representative of the global population, they do bring up an important question of how cultural values and family orientations influence future relationships and what other external factors impact how we develop attachment. So I ask you – how do you think your attachment style has been shaped by your culture?

  1. Arriaga, X. B., Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E. J., VanderDrift, L. E., & Luchies, L. B. (2014). Filling the void: Bolstering attachment security in committed relationships. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 398-406. 
  2. Jakubiak, B. K., Fuentes, J. D., & Feeney, B. C. (2023). Perceptions of oneself and one’s spouse following a stressor discussion predicting attachment insecurity over one year. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 40(10), 3195-3219.  
  3. Jiao, J., & Segrin, C. (2021). Parent-emerging-adult-child attachment and overparenting. Family Relations, 70(3), 859–865.
  4. Li, J.-B., Delvecchio, E., Miconi, D., Salcuni, S., & Di Riso, D. (2014). Parental attachment among Chinese, Italian, and Costa Rican adolescents: A cross-cultural study. Personality and Individual Differences, 71, 118–123.
  5. Wang, F., Wang, M., Wang, T., & Wang, Z. (2021). Harsh Parental Discipline, Parent-Child Attachment, and Peer Attachment in Late Childhood and Early Adolescence. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 30(1), 196–205.
  6. Whittington, D. D., & Turner, Lisa. A. (2022). Relations of Family-of-Origin Communication Patterns to Attachment and Satisfaction in Emerging Adults’ Romantic Relationships. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 1–16.

2 Replies to “Does My Culture Shape My Attachment Style?

  1. I really appreciate this blog post. Like Persephone, I really like that you focused on culture’s interplay with attachment style. I do think that it is hard to generalize attachment style, especially across cultures who differ drastically in qualities like interdependence, obligation to elders, obedience, parent-child mutuality, and more. When comparing my own family dynamics and communication patterns, I find it difficult to relate to just one of these cultures, as there are aspects of each that I find relevant to my upbringing.

  2. I really like the focus on culture’s interplay with attachment style because of differing family norms which can shape early childhood experiences. I think many studies may fail to account for these differences, particularly with a Western viewpoint which values autonomy/independence more than some collectivist cultures. Because there are some genetic predispositions for some attachment styles, I wonder if culture and genetics (nurture and nature kind of deal) perpetuate each other so people within those cultures tend to have more of one type of attachment style. Or, alternatively, if the way we describe attachment styles works more within a Western view and within the framework of our way of life.

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