I just happened upon an article over at LiveScience.com entitled Test Predicts Whether Relationships Will Last. No name was given for the test so I’ll call it Relationship Test for the remainder of this post. As I read this article I found myself saying, “Hey, this new Relationship Test sounds a lot like the AAI (Adult Attachment Interview). Consider the following quote from the article:
The new study involved 222 volunteers, all in romantic relationships at the time of the study. Each volunteer supplied their partner’s first name and two other words that related to the partner, like a pet name or a distinctive characteristic. They then watched a monitor as three types of words were presented one at a time—good words (like peace, vacation or sharing), bad words (such as death, tragedy and criticizing), and partner-related words (names or traits).
During an AAI interview, a person provides adjectives that best describe their primary attachment figure growing up. In the Relationship Test, it is assumed that the present-day partner is now the primary attachment figure (which may or may not be the case, but still a reasonable assumption nonetheless). During the AAI, the person is then asked to provide evidence (with respect to their past relationship with their primary attachment figure) that supports why the person selected the adjectives that they did. As an example, if the person picked “loving” to describe their early attachment relationship, they may then provide the following evidence: “I remember my mother spending hours reading to me and bringing me little treats when I was sick.”
The Relationship Test takes a slightly different (but no less ingenious) approach. In the Relationship Test, the person is asked to provide a few words of endearment that best describes their current relationship. Rather than providing evidence in support of the endearments selected (as in the AAI), canned evidence (in the form of either good or bad words) is provided through the testing process. Here’s how the LiveScience.com article describes the process:
There were two different kinds of tests: one in which the volunteer was supposed to press the space bar whenever he or she saw either good words or partner-related words, and one where the combination was bad words and partner words. The idea is to get at people’s automatic reactions to the words—if they have generally good associations with their partners, they should be able to do the first task more easily than the second. The results showed that volunteers who found it easy to associate their partner with bad things and difficult to associate the partner with good things were more likely to separate over the next year.
What appears to be going on here is if the person makes more “terms of endearment” – “bad word” associations, the relationship is probably not very secure. In my opinion, a great follow-up study would be to determine a person’s attachment style (using the AAI) before running the Relationship Test. My guess (e.g., hypothesis) is that a preponderance of “terms of endearment” – “bad word” pairings would be associated with some type of insecure attachment. What I find fascinating is that both the AAI and the Relationship Test rely on getting “people’s automatic reactions to the words” (quoting the LiveScience.com article). Mary Main—the chief animator behind the AAI along with her husband Erik Hesse—will often tell her lecture audiences (and I paraphrase), “The AAI process is about ‘surprising the mind.’ ”
The purpose of this post is to simply point out that there appears to be a similarity between the Relationship Test and the AAI. It would appear that both are about “surprising the mind.” I wish I had the time to go into more detail, but I was hoping to make this a brief post. If you’d like more details, please leave a comment to that effect and I’ll see what I can do. If you’d like to read more about the AAI, I’d suggest Erik’s article in the Handbook of Attachment (either edition) or the description Dan Siegel presents in his 1999 book The Developing Mind.