Attachment styles describe how clients relate to those closest to them.
They form in childhood but influence lifelong behavior in several ways, including coping with stress, psychological wellbeing, and health (Gunnar et al., 1996; Maunder et al., 2006; Ravitz et al., 2010).
But how do we know what type of attachment style a client has?
Well, the aim of this post is to guide you by exploring several attachment style tests, questionnaires, and interview questions to assess and measure your client’s attachment style. With some of our related posts and bespoke tools, you will be well armed to help your clients better understand their attachment style.
Attachment styles describe how we develop emotional bonds and connections with other people, typically those with whom we have close relationships, such as our partners, parents, and friends (Ravitz et al., 2010).
The term was first introduced by John Bowlby (1988) and further developed by Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth et al., 1978).
Although attachment styles were initially described as the relationship between infant and mother, they have been expanded to include adult relationships too (Fraley & Roisman, 2019).
Initial research into attachment styles was based on observations of the importance of familial interactions and child–mother relationships for the child’s healthy emotional development and the negative impact of maternal deprivation on childhood development (Bretherton, 2000).
Bowlby believed that emotionless and affectionless children had experienced maternal deprivation; in contrast, a continuous loving relationship between mother and infant guaranteed a well-balanced child (Bretherton, 2000).
Ainsworth joined Bowlby’s research laboratory and expanded upon his observations through a series of observational studies and experiments, of which the most well-known is the Strange Situation (Ainsworth & Whittig, 1969).
This experiment measured how children explore their environments within the mother’s presence, how children respond to strangers, and how they respond to being consoled by their mothers. Ainsworth developed a framework from the observed behaviors to describe childhood attachment styles.
Attachment theory quiz: which of the 4 styles are you?
This video helps you make sense of attachment styles.
Types of Attachment Styles
In total, there are four known attachment styles. Three were first identified by Ainsworth et al. (1978), and a fourth attachment style was added later by Main and Solomon (1986). There is debate about whether these styles are categorical or dimensions (Bretherton, 2000).
A brief recap of the four attachment styles is included below, but interested readers can find more information in our dedicated post on Attachment Theory.
Most infants are described as securely attached. They are comfortable exploring an unfamiliar environment and interacting with strangers in the presence of their mothers.
These infants become distressed when separated from their mothers but are easily comforted when reunited. They seek comfort from their mothers when they are upset, and their mothers can soothe them.
These infants are unaffected by the absence of their mothers, and they remain unconcerned by her return. They tend to ignore and not respond to their mother’s behaviors and are likely to ignore strangers.
Infants with this attachment style prefer to remain close to their mothers and are unlikely to explore the environment and interact with strangers. They are upset by their mothers leaving and not comforted by their return.
This style presents characteristics from the insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant attachment styles. They approach their caregiver with confusion. When separated and reconciled with their moms, these infants try to move away or freeze. These infants were highly distressed by the Strange Situation experiment.
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A Look at 5 Science-Based Questionnaires & Tests
Attachment styles can be measured through various methods, including self-report questionnaires, interviews, and observational assessments. In two recent meta-analyses, several instruments were evaluated on their psychometric properties (Justo‐Núñez et al., 2022; Ravitz et al., 2010).
Ravitz et al. (2010) examined 29 instruments, including interviews and self-report questions, that had been used to measure adults’ attachment styles over the last 25 years. Of these, 11 were found to have reliable psychometric properties and are recommended for use. In Justo‐Núñez et al. (2022), 24 self-reported instruments were evaluated, all of which were self-reported measures.
How to choose between tools
No tool is superior to the other. Deciding which tool to use is up to you and based solely on your needs. A shorter tool like the Adult Attachment Styles might be better if time is limited.
To measure the degree of attachment, consider the State Adult Attachment Questionnaire. These tools can also be used as discussion points, in which case, a short tool like the Relationships Questionnaire can be used to start the discussion.
While these measures provide valuable insights, various factors may influence individual responses, and context matters when interpreting the results.
The evaluated tools differ on several properties, listed below.
When selecting a specific test or measure, it is essential to consider its psychometric properties (Cook & Beckman, 2006). Although several psychometric properties exist (Cook & Beckman, 2006), the most important are validity (does the test measure what it says it does?) and reliability (are the test results stable?).
Tools with good psychometric properties can be used confidently in settings where the findings might be challenged, such as in a court of law, or are extremely important, for example in an educational setting.
Attachment: Category or a dimension
Tests differ on how attachment styles are measured. Some measure it as a category, whether or not the client has a particular style, while others measure it as a dimension (Ravitz et al., 2010).
If you want a test that measures which style your client has, consider a tool that measures the category rather than the dimension. Make sure to research what types of categories (or dimensions) are measured within the chosen tool.
Tests differ according to relationship. For example, the Relationship Questionnaire (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) evaluates the attachment style with romantic partners, whereas the Adult Attachment Styles is indiscriminate (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).
Be pragmatic about your tool choice. Consider the questions’ wording and your client. For example, a questionnaire about intimate, romantic relationships is not appropriate for a child.
Recommended scientific tools
We have only highlighted a few of the recommended tools in this post, but the complete list is in the cited manuscripts listed in the reference section.
Adult Attachment Styles
The most extensively used tool is the Adult Attachment Styles self-report questionnaire. It is a single-item self-report measure where clients are asked to pick from three descriptions the one that best corresponds to the current relationship (see Table 2 in Hazan & Shaver, 1987).
The descriptions are the core components of the following three attachment styles described by Ainsworth et al. (1978): secure, avoidant, and anxious.
Since it contains only one question, this tool is quick and easy to administer, but its reliability and validity are relatively high. This tool is best suited as a starting point for discussing attachment styles rather than a diagnostic tool. A copy of this questionnaire exists on the Fetzer Institute website.
A second tool is the Relationships Questionnaire, which was developed by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) in response to Hazan and Shaver (1987).
Bartholomew and Horowitz argue that attachment styles should be considered to be dimensions rather than categories. The Relationships Questionnaire only comprises four statements, each describing a different attachment style, and interviewees show the extent to which each statement accurately describes their relationship with their partner on a scale from 1 to 7. Thus, the tool measures attachment styles as a dimension and category.
It is easy and quick to administer and has been used extensively in published research, but its reliability and validity could be higher. The statements are in Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) and the Fetzer Institute website.
Adult Attachment Scale and Revised-Adult Attachment Scale
The Adult Attachment Scale is a self-report questionnaire that assesses adult attachment styles based on Hazan and Shaver’s (1987) pioneering research into a tool to measure attachment styles.
Collins and Read (1990) had two aims: first, to address some criticisms of Hazan and Shaver (1987), and second, to add more nuanced questions. The Adult Attachment Scale is an 18-item scale, using a five-point Likert scale to measure each item ranging from 1 (not at all characteristic) to 5 (very characteristic).
These 18 items measure one of three constructs: dependence, anxiety, and closeness (see Table 2 in Collins & Read, 1990). Collins (1996) developed a revised version of the Adult Attachment Scale, titled the Revised-Adult Attachment Scale (RAAS).
The difference between the Adult Attachment Scale and the RAAS is the wording of one item and the replacement of three items to address ambiguity and improve reliability. These two tools are suitable for assessing client attachment styles because they are widely used in research and have good validity and reliability (Ravitz et al., 2010). The Adult Attachment Scale is also available for download.
The Adult Attachment Scale should not be confused with the Adult Attachment Styles self-report questionnaire discussed previously. They are different tools.
State Adult Attachment Questionnaire
The State Adult Attachment Questionnaire (SAAM; Gillath et al., 2009) is a more recently developed questionnaire. Unlike the previous tools that assumed that attachment styles are stable, the SAAM also considers situational factors and how these affect reported attachment styles.
The tool comprises 21 statements, which load (i.e., measure) onto three attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Each statement is rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), and respondents must indicate their degree of agreement currently. The psychometric properties, such as reliability and validity, are good (Gillath et al., 2009).
3 Attachment Style Quizzes & Scales
If a scientifically developed attachment style questionnaire is unnecessary, several quizzes exist on the web.
The first quiz exists on the Attachment Project website. With the free quiz, the Attachment Project provides information about attachment styles so readers can improve their style and stop negative generational patterns.
The quiz is split into different sections with Likert scale questions about:
Maternal caregiver relationship
Paternal caregiver relationship
Romantic partner relationship
The results provide a measurement for each of the four question types and an overall outcome about attachment style. These detailed results are useful to understand whether your client has varying attachment styles for each relationship type. The questionnaire scoring is not freely available, and it must be completed online.
The Stonybrook Attachment Theory and Research Website is a great resource for clinicians interested in attachment theory. You will find information about workshops and training research papers, videos, and a list of questionnaires and scales suitable for children, teenagers, and adults.
What attachment style do you have? Take this quiz to find out
For more inspiration, look at this video of an attachment style quiz.
14 Interview Questions to Ask Your Clients
The most popular interview tool is the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI; George et al., 1985), which measures attachment styles with parents by exploring early childhood experiences and memories.
The tool has excellent psychometric properties, but it requires rigorous training to administer correctly, the interview takes longer (more than an hour), and scoring the responses from a transcript can take over 90 minutes.
The Current Relationship Interview (CRI; Crowell & Owens, 1998) is a better tool when measuring attachment styles with romantic partners. However, the interview and the scoring are time consuming and intensive. Expect to take 90 minutes for each.
The AAI is proprietary, and clinicians must complete formal training on administering this Attachment Style interview to gain access to the AAI materials. The CRI is also proprietary; however, the scoring manual of the CRI is freely available and provides insight into how interview responses are coded (although the attachment figure differs between the two interviews).
For readers looking for inspiration for the types of questions to pose in an interview but not necessarily a scientifically validated tool, we recommend using a few of the sample questions we have put together below.
These questions can guide the conversation, and follow-up prompts and probes are essential for delving deeper into your client’s attachment-related experiences.
Exploring early relationships
Can you tell me about your relationship with your parents or caregivers when you were growing up?
What was your relationship like with your mother, father, or primary caregiver? Can you describe your interactions and the feelings you had during that time?
Were there any specific memories or events from your childhood that stand out to you regarding your relationship with your parents?
How did you feel when your parents or caregivers left you or were not around?
Can you recall any instances when you were upset or scared as a child? How did you seek comfort or support during those times?
Were there any significant separations, losses, or changes in your early life that impacted you emotionally?
Reflecting on attachment styles
How do you think your early experiences with your parents or caregivers have influenced how you relate to others in your adult relationships?
What qualities or traits do you value in close relationships? How do these relate to your past experiences?
How do you handle conflict or disagreements in your current relationships? Are there any patterns you have noticed?
Exploring internal working models
How do you view yourself in relation to others? How would you describe your sense of self-worth and your ability to connect with others?
Do you feel comfortable seeking support or assistance from others when you need it? Why or why not?
How do you feel when others get too close to you emotionally? What goes through your mind in those situations?
Reflecting on change and growth
Have there been any significant changes in your thoughts about relationships or attachments over the years?
Have you ever experienced personal growth or healing concerning your attachment experiences? If so, can you describe those moments?
These questions provide a starting point for exploring an individual’s attachment experiences and internal working models. However, you may need to adapt these questions to your client’s responses and emotions. Remember that providing a safe and open environment for your clients to reflect on their attachment-related experiences will help you uncover patterns that may shed light on their attachment style.
PositivePsychology.com’s Relevant Resources
We have a vast collection of useful tools to help improve relationships. Clients with anxious, avoidant, and disorganized attachment styles can benefit from learning how to foster their close relationships through several avenues, such as improving their communication, asking for help, and expressing their feelings.
To help them, we recommend the following tools:
Assertive Communication and Knowing When to Speak Up
Clients with insecure attachment styles can feel they do not know how to communicate effectively. These two worksheets can help your clients improve their communication by learning better communication techniques and judging whether an opportunity is appropriate, respectively.
These worksheets can be used in a session to help clients prepare for upcoming meetings or opportunities where they need to communicate effectively and calmly (e.g., asking for a raise or having a difficult discussion with a family member).
Effective Communication Reflection Worksheet
Clients who struggle with relationships can benefit from a pragmatic set of guidelines like this one to improve their relationships. This worksheet lists a set of basic guidelines to help clients improve their communication.
Additionally, the worksheet includes open-ended questions asking your client to evaluate which aspects of communication were difficult and how they can be improved.
Identifying Your Stress Resources This is a short exercise that can teach your clients to identify what resources they have available when they need support. In this exercise, your clients reflect on who/what they can rely on and how these resources can help them.
This tool is useful for clients who developed maladaptive methods of coping with stress because of their attachment style and helps teach them they do not need to isolate themselves during moments of stress.
Attachment styles are useful to gain an understanding of how clients approach close relationships. But before we can even discuss attachment styles, we need to use an attachment style test or attachment style questionnaire to measure it.
In this post, we explored different attachment style tests and questionnaires, as well as example interview questions that can measure attachment styles.
The reviewed attachment styles tests differ in several ways. Scientifically developed attachment style questionnaires and tests have better psychometric properties, but they can be difficult or time consuming to administer.
Regardless of the type of attachment style test you decide to use, remember that context and personal experiences also influence attachment style. If you have any specific tools you prefer to use, then share them with us in the comments.
The four common attachment styles are secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious, and disorganized (also known as fearful-avoidant).
Can you change your attachment style?
Attachment styles are not static; they can change and evolve over time. While attachment styles form during early childhood based on interactions with caregivers, they can be influenced and modified by various life experiences, personal growth, therapy, and self-awareness.
Can you cheat the attachment style test?
Clients can lie during an attachment style test, affecting the results. However, an observant clinician and frequent probing of attachment styles should identify the dominant attachment style that a client has developed.
Ainsworth, M. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Ainsworth, M., & Whittig, B. A. (1969). Attachment and the exploratory behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation. In B. M. Foss (Ed.) Determinants of infant behavior (vol. 4, pp. 113–136). Methuen.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226–244.
Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent–child attachment and healthy human development. Basic Books.
Bretherton, I. (2000). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. In S. Goldberg, R. Muir, & J. Kerr (Eds.), Attachment theory (pp. 45–84). Routledge.
Collins, N. L. (1996). Revised Adult Attachment Scale (RAAS) [Database record]. APA PsycTests.
Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(4), 644–663.
Cook, D. A., & Beckman, T. J. (2006). Current concepts in validity and reliability for psychometric instruments: theory and application. The American Journal of Medicine, 119(2), 166.E7–166.E16.
Crowell, J., & Owens, G. (1998). Manual for the current relationship interview and scoring system. Unpublished manuscript.
Fraley, R. C., & Roisman, G. I. (2019). The development of adult attachment styles: Four lessons. Current Opinion in Psychology, 25, 26–30.
George, C., Kaplan, N., & Main, M. (1985). The Adult Attachment Interview [Unpublished manuscript]. University of California at Berkeley.
Gillath, O., Hart, J., Noftle, E. E., & Stockdale, G. D. (2009). Development and validation of a State Adult Attachment Measure (SAAM). Journal of Research in Personality, 43(3), 362–373.
Gunnar, M. R., Brodersen, L., Nachmias, M., Buss, K., & Rigatuso, J. (1996). Stress reactivity and attachment security. Developmental Psychobiology, 29(3), 191–204.
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524.
Justo‐Núñez, M., Morris, L., & Berry, K. (2022). Self‐report measures of secure attachment in adulthood: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 29(6), 1812–1842.
Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1986). Discovery of a new, insecure-disorganized/disoriented attachment pattern. In M. Yogman & T. B. Brazelton (Eds.), Affective development in infancy (95–124). Ablex.
Maunder, R. G., Lancee, W. J., Nolan, R. P., Hunter, J. J., & Tannenbaum, D. W. (2006). The relationship of attachment insecurity to subjective stress and autonomic function during standardized acute stress in healthy adults. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 60(3), 283–290.
Ravitz, P., Maunder, R., Hunter, J., Sthankiya, B., & Lancee, W. (2010). Adult attachment measures: A 25-year review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 69(4), 419–432.
About the author
Alicia Nortje, Ph.D. is a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, where she is involved in multiple projects investigating eyewitness memory and face recognition. She’s highly skilled in research design, data analysis, and critical thinking. When she’s not working, she indulges in running on the road or the trails, and enjoys cooking.