The Bases of Bonding: The Psychological Functions of Place Attachment in Comparison to Interpersonal Attachment




Scannell, Leila

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This dissertation identified key parallels between the theories of place attachment and interpersonal attachment, a comparison that then informed three objectives of the research program: (1) to explore the functions of place attachment and describe which are shared with interpersonal attachment; (2) to examine how these functions differ according to stable individual differences in place and person attachment; and (3) to assess whether these functions differ according to the geographical scale at which the attachment rests. An additional methodological goal was to bring a new approach to the study of place attachment, drawing on experimental paradigms used in interpersonal attachment research. Research objectives were achieved through the completion of three separate studies. Study 1 began the inquiry into the functions of place attachment with a content analysis of community members’ open-ended descriptions about places to which they consider themselves attached. Thirteen categories of benefits were revealed: memories, belonging, relaxation, positive emotions, activity support, comfort--security, self-growth, freedom--control, entertainment, connection to nature, practical benefits, privacy, and aesthetics. These functions were discussed with reference to the functions of interpersonal attachment previously identified in the literature. The next two studies used experimental methodologies to further evaluate, and expand upon, the functions of place attachment identified in Study 1. Study 2 evaluated whether a security function exists for place attachment by assessing the impact of threat exposure on the mental accessibility of place attachment words. Specifically, threat exposure was operationalized by mistakes made on a lexical decision task, and place attachment proximity was represented by participants’ subsequent reaction times to place attachment words in this task. Results showed that exposure to threats increased proximity-seeking to places of attachment, but not to other types of places. Study 3 evaluated the ability of place attachment to provide belongingness, control, meaningfulness, self-esteem, and improved affect, and this was done within the context of a commonly-used ostracism paradigm. Place attachment was manipulated using a visualization exercise, and ostracism was manipulated using a bogus rejection paradigm. The dependent variables included participants’ current moods and experienced levels of psychological need satisfaction (i.e., meaning, self-esteem, control, and belongingness). Although ostracism did not interact with the place attachment visualization, the latter was found to increase individuals’ current levels of self-esteem, meaning, belongingness, control and negative affect, but only among participants without an avoidant place attachment style. This comparison between interpersonal attachment and place attachment revealed some overlap between the two types of bonding, and most importantly, inspired new research questions and methodological approaches to advance the study of place attachment – a less mature theory, but one with much applied value and theoretical potential.



place attachment, interpersonal attachment, environmental psychology, psychological needs, lexical decision task, content analysis