Attachment styles affect relationship dynamics and also, according to a new psychology study, an individual’s music preferences.
By Rosanna Chan
What does our Spotify playlist tell us about our love lives, friendships, or even family? The lyrics of our favorite songs can tell us a lot about ourselves, especially our attachment styles that affect how we think, feel, and act in different relationships.
What are attachment styles?
According to Bartholomew’s model of attachment, there are four main attachment styles in relationships: anxious, avoidant, disorganized, and secure. Dr. Laura Guerrero explained in her research that individuals with an anxious attachment style are often scared of being alone and search for reassurance about the state of their relationships. Those with an avoidant attachment style tend to avoid intimacy and emotional connection with others; their negative outlook toward relationships may lead them to close off their emotions. The disorganized attachment style is also known as fearful-avoidant. People with disorganized attachment styles often show inconsistency in their romantic relationships. They may struggle to feel safe in relationships and push their partner away even if they want intimacy. Lastly, securely attached people are confident in their relationships. They feel connected, trusting, and comfortable with having independence and letting their partner have independence with open communications with each other.
How do our favorite songs tell us about our attachment style?
The lyrics of our favorite songs can confirm our thoughts and feelings, and they can also reveal things about our relationship experiences that we might not have noticed. Psychology researchers at the University of Toronto conducted a study involving 500+ participants and discovered that avoidantly attached people also consistently preferred music with avoidant lyrics. Study researcher Dr. Ravin Alaei explained that a prime example of an avoidant song is “Heartless” by The Weeknd, which includes lyrics such as “Tryna be a better man but I’m heartless” and “Never be a wedding plan for the heartless.”
The researchers found a clear relationship between avoidantly attached people and avoidant lyrics, on both an individual level and a societal level. Another part of the research study used 800+ Billboard No.1 hits from 1946 to 2015 and found that lyrics have taken on more avoidant themes and less secure phrasings over time. Alaei suggested that this shows that popular music is “parallel to the sociological trends of social disconnection,” with more and more people preferring to have independence instead of relying on others, yet ending up with feelings of isolation.
On the other hand, the researchers suggested that anxiously attached people tend to relate to Adele’s songs, especially “Someone Like You,” with lyrics including “I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited,” “But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it,” and “I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over.”
Alaei posed the question for further research of whether listening to music that matches an individual’s particular attachment style would help or hinder their relationship skills. Listening to songs that match one’s attachment style could have downsides. For example, Alaei explained that anxious people are susceptible to a negative feedback loop and their emotions can snowball. According to Alaei, “Music can be a very powerful exacerbator of that because it can stimulate deep emotions and memories,” which can reinforce their anxiety.
But he also suggested that listening to songs can help us figure out what we are feeling and become an outlet for different emotions and thoughts. It is important to be aware of when listening to songs that reflect our experiences is helping us, and when listening to these songs is encouraging harmful behaviors or mental habits for ourselves. Alaei reflected that it can be “more productive to listen to music that provides a sense of security.” Some examples of secure songs are: “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, “All of Me” by John Legend, and “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston.
This study was published in the journal Personal Relationships.
Alaei, R., Rule, N. O., & MacDonald, G. (2022). Individuals’ favorite songs’ lyrics reflect their attachment style. Personal Relationships. doi:10.1111/pere.12448
Guerrero, L. K. (1996). Attachment‐style differences in intimacy and involvement: A test of the four‐category model. Communication Monographs, 63(4), 269–292. doi:10.1080/03637759609376395
About the Author
Rosanna Chan is a recent Reproductive Medicine MSc graduate. She has a background in Science Communication. Connect with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosannachan99/.