Investigating the role of attachment, coping skills and personality traits in risk-taking in late adolescence
Introduction Individual’s attachment style and coping styles have been suggested to be related to each other whereby early attachment experiences shape the coping behaviours that individuals are most likely to engage in at times of stress. A systematic review was carried out to examine the available literature on attachment status and coping style in both adolescent and adult populations with the aim of establishing what is currently known about the association between these two concepts. A research study was carried out with the aim of investigating the relationship between adolescents’ attachment type, coping style and participation in health risk behaviours. The study also aimed to explore the relationship between attachment, coping and personality state dominance. Method A literature search was conducted following PRISMA (2009) and Cochrane (2008) guidelines. Papers were quality assessed and strengths and limitations considered. With regards the empirical project, a cross-sectional survey design was adopted to investigate the mediating role of coping style on adolescent risk taking and its relationship with attachment and state dominance (negativism and telic). Seventy-six first year psychology undergraduate students participated in the study. Participants completed the A-RQ attachment questionnaire, the ACS coping questionnaire, the TDS and NDS personality trait questionnaires, the YRBS behaviour questionnaire and the SDQ mental health screening tool. Results The systematic review yielded an initial 812 papers from use of the search terms. Eleven papers met criterion for inclusion in the review. The papers were quality assessed and strength and difficulties of the papers were reviewed. The findings highlight the need for further robust investigations into the subject area, and recommendations are made for future investigations. With regards the empirical project, analysis revealed that the relationship between attachment security and risk taking related to feelings of sadness and plans or attempts to carry out suicide. This was not mediated by use of higher levels of unproductive coping in adolescents. Analysis also revealed that high negativism dominance predicted increased participation in alcohol, tobacco and drug misuse. This relationship was not mediated by increased use of unproductive coping behaviours. Conclusions The need to establish a more consistent conceptualisation of coping was apparent. It was suggested that future research needs to address limitations in the field including the validity of some self-report measures of attachment, inconsistency in selection of measures, over-reliance on self-report measures and an absence of research out with westernised cultures. Adolescents’ attachment insecurity in key relationships would seem to be one vulnerability factor that contributes to the development of emotional difficulties and adolescents’ preference for being in a rebellious state (high negativism dominance) would seem to contribute to participation in risky substance misuse and so at the very least, these should be considered as predictors for engagement in specific types of health risk behaviour.