Attachment Style May Affect Willingness to Share Food

By Traci Pedersen
October 12th, 2021
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

In a new study, University of Kansas (KU) researchers examined the link between food-sharing and styles of attachment.

They found that people with “attachment avoidance,” a psychological term for reluctance to form close personal relationships, tend to have a harder time sharing their food with others.

The researchers say the findings can help us better understand sharing and hoarding behaviors seen during the current coronavirus pandemic, particularly among people with high attachment avoidance.

In a crisis situation, sharing and accepting food and other resources could have psychological benefits beyond just making sure people have enough to eat, according to co-author Dr. Omri Gillath, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas.

“Not having food and feeling insecure about the whole situation is definitely going to increase mental health issues, whereas having food and having people looking out for you can not only keep people from starving but also potentially help with their mental health and anxieties,” Gillath said.

The study, published in the journal Appetite, was led by KU doctoral student Sabrina Gregersen.

“‘Attachment’ is a theory that explains how people bond to each other and how they regulate their emotions,” said Gillath.

“People have an attachment style based on early interactions with their primary caregivers, parents usually. The three main styles are secure, anxious and avoidant. If you have parents that were supportive and sensitive and find a good balance between helping you on the one hand and providing autonomy on the other, you’re more likely to be secure.

“If you had parents that were insensitive and intrusive and weren’t consistent about the help they provided, you’re more likely to be anxious. And then if you had parents that were cold and rejecting, you are more likely to develop an avoidant attachment style. These differences that people develop pretty early predict a lot of relational behaviors and outcomes.”

To see how these attachment styles affected people’s food-sharing behaviors, the KU researchers conducted several studies.

In one experiment, participants answered several questions, many of which touched on how food preferences might be tied to romantic or dating behavior for people with various attachment styles. In another experiment, participants were placed in a situation where they interacted with another person while one of them had a pack of fruit snacks.

“We brought people to the lab and had them fill out a few questionnaires, then we exposed them to either attachment-security-related cues or control cues,” Gillath said.

“For example, we asked them to think about a secure relationship, which activated their security-related models. Then we asked them to wait outside in a waiting area. In both studies they happened to meet another ‘participant’ in that area.

“In one study, we gave the participant a bag of treats and wanted to see if they would share it, and in the other study, we gave our confederate, who was supposedly another participant, a bag of treats and they offered to share. We wanted to see whether participants would accept the food offering. Many participants were reluctant to take food or give it. However, some people — those who were exposed to security-related cues — were more likely to share their treat with a stranger.”

The first experiment showed that people high on attachment avoidance were less likely to share food or date a potential partner who had different food preferences.

In the second experiment, the researchers found that enhancing attachment security increased the tendency to offer one’s food to a fellow participant. In the final experiment, the team found that the tendency to accept food from a fellow participant was positively associated with attachment anxiety, but security priming did not affect this tendency.

Gillath said a better understanding of the links between attachment and food could potentially help inform efforts to extend help to people during the coronavirus pandemic; particularly among people with high attachment avoidance, who, the authors wrote, “were less likely to engage in food sharing behaviors with current romantic partners and less likely to cook and eat meals with their partners.”

“We could also use the findings to better understand people’s tendencies when it comes to prosocial behavior,” he said.

“Right now, with the coronavirus crisis, trust or the lack of is a major obstacle. On the one hand, some people don’t have food, they don’t have a job, they don’t have the means to support themselves.”

“It is in times like these when we need to find a way to come together, reduce anxiety and help each other out. Making people feel secure can help with that.”

Source: University of Kansas

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.