Attachment styles form during childhood emotional experiences. These experiences may be shaped by emotion-related traits such as how children interpret and regulate their own and others' emotions. These emotion-related traits appear in many emotional intelligence (EI) models, such that EI may relate to attachment styles. We conduct a meta-analysis to estimate the association between EI and attachment styles (26 studies, N = 6914). We include only non-clinical adult samples and validated psychometric assessments. We examine EI type as a moderator, comparing ability EI versus EI rating-scales using subgroups analysis and meta-regression. We find that lower anxious attachment is significantly associated with EI rating-scales (r = −0.25, k = 26) and ability EI (r = −0.16, k = 45), lower avoidant attachment is significantly associated with EI rating-scales (r = −0.36, k = 21) and ability EI (r = −0.21, k = 40), but secure attachment is significantly associated with EI rating-scales only (r = 0.31, k = 30). EI type significantly moderated the EI/avoidant attachment association only (β = −0.14, p = .01). We discuss possible mechanisms by which EI could influence early development of attachment styles (and vice-versa) while acknowledging that the causal direction underlying EI/attachment associations is unclear.
Attachment theory describes how enduring beliefs and tendencies around interpersonal relationships develop in infant-caregiver interactions and transfer to other interpersonal relationships (Fraley & Shaver, 2021). These enduring traits are known as attachment styles and are broadly defined as secure attachment versus various forms of insecure attachment (e.g., anxious, avoidant, dismissive, preoccupied, etc.). Adult attachment is thought to be influenced by childhood experiences and events, such that attachment styles are relatively stable over the adult lifespan (Bowlby, 1982; Collins & Read, 1990; Fraley & Shaver, 2021). Adult attachment is related to intrapersonal and interpersonal factors, including personality traits, emotional capacities, affect regulation, and the attitudes, beliefs, and expectations of others (Fraley & Shaver, 2021; Kobak & Sceery, 1988; Shaver & Brennan, 1992; Wearden, Peters, Berry, Barrowclough, & Liversidge, 2008). Many of these factors underpin modern models of emotional intelligence (EI), such that there is a clear conceptual link between higher EI and adult attachment styles. To establish whether this conceptual link is substantiated by empirical relationships, below we outline a meta-analysis of the relationship between EI and attachment styles. In doing so, we consider the two different ways of measuring EI (ability scales and rating scales) and multiple different attachment styles (e.g., secure, anxious, avoidant, dismissive, preoccupied). Our goal is to establish which attachment styles are related to the emotional competencies of trait and ability EI, respectively.