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Virtues Develop From a Secure Base: Attachment and Resilience as Predictors of Humility, Gratitude, and Forgiveness.

Little research has explored the role of attachment in predicting virtues. In the present study, we provide an initial investigation testing the theory that virtues develop from having secure attachment relationships and the ability to bounce back from adversity. Specifically, we examined attachment and ego resilience as predictors of humility, gratitude and forgiveness. A series of hierarchical multiple regression analyses on a community sample of 245 participants found that both attachment and resilience were significant predictors of humility, gratitude, and forgiveness, even after controlling for religiosity. These results indicate the importance of the role of attachment and resilience in the development of virtues.

This research was supported in part by a generous grant to the second author from the John Templeton Foundation, Grant No. 29630, The Development, Validation, and Dissemination of Measures of Intellectual Humility and Humility

Recent developments in neurological science and developmental psychology reveal that secure attachment is important for providing the building blocks for healthy emotion regulation, the ability to cope with stress, and the capacity to foster healthy interpersonal relationships (Fonagy, 2003; Schore, 2001; Siegel, 2001). In the present study, we examine the extent to which attachment style and resilience are related to personality constructs that are often considered virtuous, such as humility, gratitude, and forgiveness.

Attachment styles are relational patterns that are formed during early childhood interactions with caregivers. They influence people's interactions with others throughout their lives (Ainsworth, 1979; Karen, 1994; Lawler-Row, Younger, Piferi, & Jones, 2006). Attachment is often measured in terms of anxious and avoidant dimensions (Fraley, Waller, & Brennan, 2000). In response to relationship threats, those with an anxious attachment style fear that the attachment figure will be rejecting or unresponsive to their needs; in contrast,

those with an avoidant attachment style tend to minimize the importance of and seek to psychologically distance from attachment figures (Ainsworth, 1979; Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). Those with a secure attachment style (i.e., lower scores on anxiety and avoidance dimensions) have relationships with attachment figures that are characterized by a balance of closeness and independence.

Attachment security is a robust predictor of psychological health in a variety of populations (e.g., Dieper-ink, Leskela, Thuras, & Engdahl, 2001; Love & Murdock, 2004). Individuals who are securely attached are confident that the attachment figure will be responsive to their needs and experience their close relationships as a "secure base" (Ainsworth, 1979, p. 934). This, in turn, affords them the confidence needed to explore their environments, take risks, and gain new experiences. Knowing that one has a secure base to which he or she can retreat provides a regulating mechanism for securely attached individuals to face potential stressors in their environment.

We propose that attachment security--opera-tionally defined by low attachment avoidance and anxiety--provides a foundation for the practice of relational virtues such as humility, gratitude, and forgiveness. We refer to these as relational virtues because they govern the process of strengthening and repairing relationships (Davis et al., 2013). To practice each of these virtues well, we theorize that individuals likely must have developed a positive view of self and other, which is characterized by secure attachment (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). For example, humility involves the ability to have an accurate view of self and an awareness of one's limitations, and having a secure attachment may allow an individual to practice this aspect of humility without feeling the need to self-enhance. Furthermore, humility involves having a stance that is other-oriented rather than self-focused (Davis et al., 2011), which likely necessitates a positive view of others. Similarly, gratitude (i.e., thankfulness for the blessings one has received) and forgiveness (i.e., the ability to engage in a prosocial emotional change toward an offender) also are likely facilitated by having a secure base and a positive view of self and other.

Empirical evidence supports positive links between secure attachment and the development of virtues. Although we are not aware of any empirical research that has explicitly examined the association between attachment and humility, there is research that has linked attachment and narcissism, which involves having low humility (Bollinger, 2010; Dwiwardani, 2011). A number of authors propose that the etiology of narcissism is rooted in early attachment experiences with caregivers (Bennett, 2006; Besser & Priel, 2009; Cater, Zeigler-Hill & Vonk, 2011; Munich & Munich, 2009). For example, Cater et al. (2011) found that entitlement, a component of narcissism, was negatively associated with recollections of attachment securities and positively associated with recollections of anxiety surrounding separation from caregivers. Similarly, in a study of adult romantic relationships, Tolmacz and Milculinzer (2011) found that entitlement in relationships was associated with insecure attachment. Given the negative relationship between narcissism and humility, these studies provide indirect evidence for the hypothesis that secure attachment facilitates humility.

There is also preliminary evidence that attachment style predicts gratitude and forgiveness. Namely, attachment avoidance has been associated with lower dispos i tio n al gratitude (Lavy & Littman-Ov ad ia, 2011; Mikulincer, Shaver, & Slav, 2006). Gratitude was also found to mediate the relationship between attachment avoidance and life satisfaction (Lavy & Litt-man-Ovadia, 2011). Attachment has also been linked with both trait and state forgiveness (e.g., Lawler-Row, Younger, Piferi, & Jones, 2006; Webb, Call, Chickering, Colburn, & Heisler 2006).

Although a secure attachment provides individuals with a secure base to explore and cultivate virtues, such exploration often involves encountering and dealing with stressful situations. Thus, in addition to attachment style, another enduring quality that may provide a foundation for the practice of virtue is resilience, which is a trait that allows an individual to manage stressors and engage in their environment (Block & Krernen, 1996). Although there have been few empirical studies that have directly measured resilience and the virtues of humility, gratitude, and forgiveness, there is again indirect evidence for this hypothesis. For example, humility has been linked with positive social relationship quality, general health, and self-esteem (Peters, Rowatt, & Johnson, 2011; Rowatt et al., 2006). Gratitude has been linked with acceptance of negative experiences, self-compassion, well-being, depression, anger, loneliness, life satisfaction, spiritual well-being, and burnout (Breen, Kashda.n, Lenser & Fincham, 2010; Lee, 2010; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). In addition, forgiveness has been linked with positive emotions, neuroticism, depression, anger, personal distress, loneliness, acceptance, self-perspective, and well-being (Breen et al., 2010; Neto, 2007, Worthington, 2003). Taken together, this pattern of relationships points to the pivotal role that resilience may play in promoting well-being as well as the development of relational virtues.

Thus, in the present study, we sought to examine preliminary evidence for the idea that virtuous behavior in relationships occurs from a foundation of security (i.e., secure attachment) and an ability to bounce back or deal with stressors or difficult circumstance (i.e., ego resilience). Our primary hypothesis was that resilience and secure attachment would be positively associated with virtues that regulate behavior in relationships (i.e., humility, gratitude, and forgiveness). However, given that there is a body of evidence suggesting that attachment style and resilience are related (Caldwell & Shaver, 2012; Karreman & Vingerhoets, 2012; Simeon et al., 2007), we will investigate the extent to which attachment style predicts these virtuous constructs above and beyond resilience. Because the virtues under investigation have been associated with religion and spirituality, we controlled for religiosity in all analyses.


Participants The study sample consisted of 245 individuals (69% female). The mean participant age was 35.16 (range 18 to 76). The participants self-identified as Caucasian (72.7%), African American (13.1%), Biracial (4.1%), Hispanic/Latin (3.7%), Asian American/Pacific Islander (2.4%), Other (1.25%), and Multiracial (1.2%). Participants were highly educated with approximately two-thirds having at least a bachelor's degree. The sample was also highly religious (75% identified themselves as at least moderately religious) and spiritual (89% identified themselves as at least moderately spiritual). Seventy-seven percent were Protestant, 11% Catholic, 5% spiritual but not religious, and 3% no religious affiliation. Approximately half of the sample was married, 43% was single (never married), and 5% divorced.


Attachment styles. Attachment was assessed utilizing the Experiences in Close Relationships-Revised 0(...iestionnaire (ECR-R; Fraley, Waller, & Brennan, 2000). This 36-item self-report measure contains two subscales: attachment-related anxiety and attachment-related avoidance. Respondents are asked to rate their agreement with each statement (e.g. "I'm afraid that I will lose my partner's love" or "I prefer not to show a partner how I feel deep down") on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. The test-retest correlations of the ECR-R subscales ranged from .93 to .95. Secure attachment is defined as the absence of attachment-related anxiety and avoidance. Fraley, Waller and Brennan (2000) acknowledged the limitations in measuring secure attachment through ECR-R; however, when compared with four other measures of attachment, ECR-R exhibited the strongest psychometric properties. Additional psychometric support was also provided by Sibley, Fischer, and Liu (2005). For the present study, Cronbach's alphas for the anxious and avoidant subscales were .92 and.95, respectively.

Resilience. One's ability to adapt to stressors and environmental contexts was assessed by measuring one's ego resilience with the 14-item Ego-Resiliency Scale (ER89; Block & Kremen, 1996). Items (e.g., "I quickly get over and recover from being startled") are rated on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. The measure is face-valid and has good reliability (a = .76). Additional psychometric support has been found in other research (e.g. Letzring, Block, & Funder, 2005). Cronbach's alpha of this measure for the current study was .75.

Religiosity. The extent to which one identifies as religious was assessed using one question on our online survey, "How religious do you consider yourself to be?" Participants responded on a Likert scale, ranging from 1 = not religious to 5 = very religious.

Humility. Humility was assessed using an unpublished 36-item self-report humility measure (Bollinger, Kopp, Hill, & Williams, 2006). Items (i.e. "I can honestly assess my strengths and weaknesses") are rated on a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly disagree. The measure has five factors based on Tangney's (2000, 2009) definition of humility: Worldview, Appreciation and recognition of limitations, Low self-focus, Personal finiteness, and Accurate assessment of one's self. Cronbach alpha coefficients ranged from .57 to .85 (Bollinger et al., 2006). For the purposes of this study, the total score (a = .76; Bollinger et al., 2006) was used. Cronbach's alpha of this measure for the current study was .79.

Gratitude. Gratitude was assessed with the 6-item self-report measure of gratitude (GQ-6; McCullough,

Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Items (e.g., "I have so much in life to be thankful for") are rated on a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. This single-factor questionnaire is face valid, and has high internal consistency (a = .82) and convergent validity (McCullough, et al. 2002). Additional studies have also noted the validity of this measure both in adult (Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, & Froh, 2009; Wood, Joseph, & Maltby, 2009) and child populations (edited version; Froh, et al. 2011). Cronbach's alpha of this measure for the current study was .82.

Forgiveness. Dispositional forgiveness was assessed with the 18-item Heartland Forgiveness Scale (HFS; Thompson, et al., 2005). Items (e.g., "With time I am understanding of others for the mistakes they've made") are rated on a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = almost always false ofme to 7= almost always true of me. The HFS has three subscales: Forgiveness of Self, Forgiveness of Others, and Forgiveness of Situations. In the present study, the total score was used. The HFS has shown evidence of convergent and divergent validity, internal consistency (a = .72 to .87) and test-retest reliability (r = .72 to .83; Thompson et at, 2005). Cronbach's alpha of this measure for the current study was .85.


The study was completed as part of a graduate level Research Methods course in a religious university located in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Students were required to refer three participants to the study as part of their course grade. Students who referred five or more participants were granted five extra points on their final exams. After indicating consent, participants completed the online questionnaire. It was possible for participants to leave the survey at any point and return to it at a later time if they wished. Following successful completion of the questionnaire or exclusion due to not meeting screening criteria, participants were redirected to a separate database to enter their email address for the survey incentive, a $5 electronic gift card.


Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations among study variables are presented in Table 1. Prior to the analysis, two multivariate outliers were removed. There were no other problems with assumptions for multiple regression. Three three-step hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted, one for each of the three virtues under investigation. The steps were identical in each regression. Religiosity was placed in the first step, ego resiliency in the second, and anxious and avoidant attachment in the third.
TABLE 1 Descriptive Statistics and Intercorrelations for Study V

Variables    M(SD)      1       2       3      4      5      6    7

1. Anxious     2.82      --
attachment   (1.20)

2. Avoidant    2.60   .56**      --
attachment   (1.20)

3. Ego         3.13   -.14*    -.08     --
resilience    (.38)

4.             3.45   -.17*   -.17*    .06     --
Religiosity  (1.30)

5. Humility     374   -0.10   -.19*   .13*    .05     --

6.             6.36   -27**  -.28**  .18**  .23**  .40**     --
Gratitude     (.78)

7.             5.12  -.38**  -.30**  .26**   .17*  .30**  .49**  --
Forgiveness   (.82)

* p< .05. ** p <.01

Our first hypothesis was that resilience would be a positive predictor of each of the three virtues under investigation, controlling for religiosity. This hypothesis was supported. Resilience was a positive predictor of each of the three virtues over and above the effects of religiosity, though its ability to predict humility only approximated significance (p =.051). Resilience uniquely predicted 1.6% of the variance in humility, F [DELTA] (1, 237) = 3.86, p = .051, 2.6% of the variance in gratitude, F [DELTA] (1, 239) = 6.75, p = .010, and 6.1% of the variance in forgiveness, F [DELTA] (1, 219) = 14.56, p < .001.

Our second hypothesis was that anxious and avoidant attachment would be negative predictors of each of the three virtues under investigation, controlling for religiosity and resilience. This hypothesis was mostly supported. Regarding humility, attachment predicted an additional 3.0% of the variance in humility, F [DELTA] (2, 235) = 3.69, p = .027. Avoidant attachment was a negative predictor of humility ([beta]=--.19,p = .015), but anxious attachment was not a significant predictor of humility ([beta] = .03, p = .751). Regarding gratitude, attachment predicted an additional 6.5% of the variance in gratitude, [F.sub.[DELTA]] (2, 236) = 8.91, p > .001. Avoidant attachment showed a trend toward being a negative predictor of gratitude ([beta] =--.13,p = .079), and anxious attachment was a negative predictor of gratitude ([beta]=-.17,p = .024). Regarding forgiveness, attachment predicted an additional 12.1% of the variance in forgiveness, F A (2, 217) = 16.54,p < .001. Avoidant attachment showed .a trend toward being a negative predictor of forgiveness ([beta] =--.12,p = .092), and anxious attachment was a negative predictor of forgiveness ([beta] =--.27, p < .001).


The results of this study indicate that attachment and resilience are significantly related to the virtuous constructs of humility, gratitude, and forgiveness. After controlling for religiosity, we found that resilience positively predicted humility, gratitude and forgiveness, while anxious and avoidant attachment styles negatively predicted these virtues above and beyond resilience. Interestingly, both gratitude and forgiveness showed a similar pattern in which both avoidant and anxious attachment were negatively related to the virtue, but in both cases anxious attachment was the stronger predictor. This finding is consistent with prior research, (Lavy & Littman-Ovadia, 2011; Lawler-Row et al., 2006; Mikulincer et al., 2006; Webb et al., 2006) and supports our theorizing that attachment may facilitate the development of virtues that regulate strengthening and repair of relationships. Humility, on the other hand, showed a different pattern. Avoidant attachment was negatively related to humility, but anxious attachment was not associated with humility. This provides initial support for the idea that humility is grounded in a sense of security that allows one to consider one's strengths and limitations in non-defensive ways. Avoidant attachment may cause people to act in dismissive and condescending ways, especially under stress, which can increase arrogant behavior. Thus, characteristics identified by Tangney (2000, 2009) as key markers of humility--a desire to know the self accurately, a low self-focus, seeing the bigger picture of one's place in the world and a resulting lack of a sense of entitlement, and an openness to new ideas--may require an ego strength rooted in a secure attachment style that is not beset with a tendency to minimize the importance of human relatedness. Interestingly, anxious attachment was unrelated to humility in this sample. Perhaps an anxious style is not consistently detrimental to humility, but may be affected by other moderating variables. Namely, anxiously attached individuals may sometimes act in caring other-oriented ways, albeit driven by needs to regulate their anxiety. Other times they may fail to show responsiveness to others, because they are having difficulty caring for their own needs and managing negative affect. This finding, which was discrepant from our hypotheses, should be explored in further research.

The findings on the predictive capability of ego resilience suggest that the ability to regulate stressors in the environment may actually facilitate the development of virtuous characteristics and the adaptive behaviors associated with such characteristics. Resilience may, for example, involve the ability to regulate emotions, and this may help account for the conceptual overlap of the three virtues identified here, all of which may be considered as virtues of self-regulation (Peterson Sc Seligman, 2004; Powers, Nam, Rowatt, & Hill, 2007).

The study had several limitations. Although the use of online surveys and incentives increased our chance of recruiting a wide range of participants, this study relied on a convenience sample, which may not be representative of the general population. Future studies should be conducted using random sampling. Furthermore, the study used a cross-sectional correlational design, so causal assumptions should not be made. Although our theoretical model and analysis identified attachment and resilience leading to the development of humility, gratitude, and forgiveness, other theoretical models may be consistent with the data as well. For example, developing character strengths such as humility may lead to the development of resilience, or perhaps even alter one's attachment style. Or, a third variable may lead to both attachment and virtue, creating a spurious correlation between the variables in the present study. Future research using longitudinal or experimental designs would be helpful to further explore these relationships.

In conclusion, this study has provided initial evidence that the development of virtues such as humility, gratitude, and forgiveness may be related to developing a secure base (i.e., secure attachment) and the ability to bounce back from stress or adversity (i.e., resilience). This study adds to the growing research literature on the importance of attachment for the development of relational virtues.


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Carissa Dwiwardani

Regent University

Peter C. Hill

Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University

Richard A. Bollinger

Clinical Practices of the University of Perinsylvania

Lashley E. Marks, Justin R. Steele, Holly N. Doolin, and Sara L. Wood

Regent University

Joshua N. Hook

University of North Texas

Don E. Davis

Georgia State University

Author Information

DWIWARDANI, CARISSA. PhD. Address: School of Psychology & Counseling, Regent University, 1000 Regent University Dr., CRB 188, Virginia Beach, VA 23464. Title: Assistant Professor of Psychology & Director of Psychological Services Center. Degrees: PhD--Biola University; MA--Biola University; BA--Biala University. Specializations: psychoanalytic psychotherapy, positive psychology, multicultural psychology.

HILL, PETER C. PhD. Address: Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biala Ave., La Mirada, CA 90639. Title: Professor of Psychology. Degrees: PhD--University of Houston; MA--University of Houston; BA--Nyack College. Specializations: psychology of religion, religious and spiritual measurement, virtue theory, religion, and health.

BOLLINGER, RICHARD A. PhD. Address: Penn Medicine, Outpatient Psychiatry Center, 3535 Market St, Floor 2. Philadelphia, PA 19104. Title: Outpatient Director of Psychotherapy Services. Degrees: PhD--Biola University; MA--Biola University; BA--Cornell University. Specializations: Psychoanalytic psychotherapy, psychology of religion, virtue theory's application to psychotherapy.

MARKS, LASHLEY E. MA. Address: School of Psychology & Counseling, Regent University, 1000 Regent University Dr., CRB 161, Virginia Beach, VA 23464. Title: Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology. Degrees: MA--Regent University.

STEELE, JUSTIN R. MA. Address: School of Psychology & Counseling, Regent University, 1000 Regent University Dr., CRB 161, Virginia Beach, VA 23464. Title: Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology. Degrees: MA--Regent University; MFA--Regent University; BA--The University of Findlay. Specializations: psychological trauma and resilience.

DOOLIN, HOLLY N. MA. Address: School of Psychology & Counseling, Regent University, 1000 Regent University Dr., CRB 161, Virginia Beach, VA 23464, Title: Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology. Degrees: MA--Regent University. Specializations: sexuality and sexual identity concerns.

WOOD, SARA L. PhD, LPC, NCC. Address: School of Psychology & Counseling, Regent University, 1000 Regent University Dr., CRI1 161, Virginia Beach, VA 23464. Title: Adjunct Professor, Regent University. Degrees: PhD--Regent University; MA--Regent University; BS--Gardner-Webb University. Specializations: grief and loss, sexual addictions, and counselor distress.

HOOK, JOSHUA N. Address: University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle #311280, Denton, TX 76203. Email: Title: Assistant Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BS (Psychology) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; MS (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University. Specializations: humility, forgiveness, religion/spirituality.

DAVIS, DON E. PhD. Address: Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, Georgia State University, P.O. Box 3980, Atlanta, GA 30302-3980. Title: Assistant Professor of Counseling and Psychological Services Georgia State University. Degrees: PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; BA (Psychology) Yale University. Specializations: humility, forgiveness, positive psychology, religion/spirituality.
TABLE 2 Multiple Regression Analyses Predicting Humility,
Gratitude, and Forgiveness

                        Step 2         Step 3

Variable             [beta]   Sig   [beta]   Sig

Religiosity             .04   .560     .01   .863
Ego Resilience          .13   .051     .12   .069
Avoidant Attachment                   -.19   .015
Anxious Attachment                     .03   .751
Religiosity             .22  <.001     .18   .005
Ego Resilience          .16   .010     .14   .028
Avoidant Attachment                   -.13   .079
Anxious Attachment                    -.17   .024
Religiosity             .15   .024     .08   .213
Ego Resilience          .25  <.001     .22  <.001
Avoidant Attachment                   -.12   .092
Anxious Attachment                    -.27  <.001
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Author:Dwiwardani, Carissa; Hill, Peter C.; Bollinger, Richard A.; Marks, Lashley E.; Steele, Justin R.; Do
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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