M. Joy McClure, Ph.D., studies how attachment anxiety impacts romance.

dating and relationshipsDepending on your outlook, dating can be anxiety-provoking or thrilling. For most of us, it’s both. Our ambivalence stems from two natural and opposing drives—one to connect with others and one to protect ourselves from getting hurt. Balancing these desires is at the core of initiating and sustaining romance. What happens, then, when a person is especially insecure and harbors a greater fear of rejection? M. Joy McClure, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, is intrigued by this question.

Dr. McClure is particularly interested in a form of insecurity known as attachment anxiety. Such anxiety develops when others have been inconsistently responsive to our needs. Dr. McClure describes the condition as being chronically torn between needing to connect with someone and worrying that the person will leave. People who are anxiously attached “tend to cling and protest separation,” she says.

Until now, most of the research on attachment anxiety has focused on ongoing relationships. Dr. McClure wanted to know whether such anxiety would be problematic from the get-go.

To examine this question, she set up studies involving speed dating and online dating as well as one in which participants created video profiles for potential partners and another in which they collaborated with potential mates on a mock assignment.

Dr. McClure is currently working with four Adelphi undergraduates to code the online dating study. But from the other three studies she has gleaned that attachment anxiety leads people to behave in ways that deter potential mates by seeming either too anxious or, even worse, aloof. “We see this display of anxiety that leads people to not really like you, which is kind of sad,” Dr. McClure says.

This piece appeared in the Erudition 2014 edition.

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