BACKGROUND & INTRODUCTION: Violence is a pervasive problem that is extremely costly to our society.
Research in this area is therefore crucial in order that prevention strategies can be considered.
Attachment theory provides a useful framework for understanding violence as it acknowledges the
importance of both interpersonal and developmental factors. The theoretical literature suggests that
attachment is associated with violence, but the evidence was equivocal as to whether insecure
attachment was a risk factor for criminality, psychopathology more generally, or both. Consequently, a
systematic review of the literature was conducted using meta-analytic methods. Results indicated that
insecure attachment was strongly associated with all types of criminality (i.e. sexual offending, violent
offending, non-violent offending, and domestic violence) even in the absence of psychopathology.
Further sub-group analyses indicated differences in attachment patterns between sexual offenders and
violent offenders, for example. The implications of the findings are discussed and suggestions for
further research made.
The present empirical study sought to address some of the questions raised by the meta-analysis, and to
consider the influence of potential mediating variables, as insecure attachment is not sufficient to fully
explain offending behaviour. Consequently, theory of mind (ToM) and emotional intelligence (EI), two
variables proposed to mediate the relationship between insecure attachment and violence, were
examined in a sample of violent offenders. It was hypothesised the majority of the sample would be
insecurely attached, and that deficits in ToM and EI would increase as attachment security decreased.
The possibility that attachment served not only as a general risk factor, but also as a victim specific one,
was explored by examining whether attachment pattern was related to victim choice.
METHOD: Assessments of adult attachment, ToM, and EI were administered to a group of 49 violent
offenders both with and without mental disorder. File information pertaining to whether participants
had ever been violent towards a significant other or not was also collected in order to categorise
participants into groups of those who had a history of violence towards attachment figures, and those
who did not. Data were analysed using f-tests and Pearson product moment correlations.
RESULTS & DISCUSSION: Consistent with the findings of previous research, the majority of the sample
was found to be insecurely attached. They were also significantly more anxious and avoidant in their
attachments in comparison with normative data. No significant differences in attachment were observed
between the mentally disordered offending group and the non-mentally disordered offending group.
Rather, the levels of insecurity were similarly high across both groups, which would be consistent with
the notion that insecure attachment is associated with criminality more generally as opposed to simply
being a risk factor for mental disorder. The proposed association between attachment insecurity and
poorer ToM abilities was not supported. The entire sample was found to be slightly below average with
respect to EI, and the hypothesis that as attachment insecurity increased EI would decrease was
statistically supported. No significant differences in attachment were observed when comparing those
who had a history of violence towards attachment figures and those who did not. The clinical and
theoretical implications of the findings are discussed, as well as the strengths and limitations of the
study. A number of recommendations for future research are made.