Attachment style in adult learning: Implications for the person-environment interaction

Date of Completion

January 2000


Education, Adult and Continuing|Education, Educational Psychology




Today's business managers must apply knowledge in work settings that are complex, ambiguous and turbulent (Rosen, 1996; Vaill, 1996). As a result, managers are expected to demonstrate effective interpersonal and team relationships. ^ Graduate management education continues to be a primary source for new managers to American corporations (Mintzberg, 1992). These graduates are expected to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to the business environment (Linder & Smith, 1992), including interpersonal and team development skills. This study investigated the effect of an adult learners attachment style and current learner-teacher relationships on the application of content knowledge to a relationship-centered (team functioning) business problem. ^ Constructs from adult learning theory (Sheckley & Keeton, 1997, 1998), social-cognitive theory (Hazan & Shaver, 1987) and clinical psychology (Bowlby, 1988; Horvath, 1994a; Mitchell, 1993) provided the theoretical framework for an exploration of the relationship between the dependent variables (case solution, valence, character focus and self knowledge) and the independent variables (attachment style, regulatory self-guides, learner-teacher alliance and relational space). ^ Data were collected from adult learners (N = 59) enrolled in management classes at a private university in New England. Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to determine the extent to which attachment style, regulatory self-guides, learner-teacher alliance and relational space explained variance in the analysis of a case study about a business team. ^ Results showed that attachment style (secure or non-secure) explained 34% of the variance in the application of content knowledge to the case situation, and 26% of the variance in the optimism or pessimism (i.e., valence) expressed in the case analysis. Overall, the secure learners performed better than the nonsecure learners. ^ The results suggest that an adult attachment style is related to the application of knowledge to relationship-centered business problems. The results expand the research on adult learning and adult attachment by demonstrating the role of attachment style in adult learning outcomes, including the influence of attachment on cognitive processes. ^