Could Social Media be a trigger for attachment anxiety among teens in dating relationships?

Could Social Media be a trigger for attachment anxiety among teens in dating relationships?

Social media has started to play a large, significant role in dating relationships among high school students. A recent study, Keeping tabs: Attachment anxiety and electronic intrusion in high school dating relationships, was conducted to further research this topic. Attachment orientation is a universal underlying system of emotional regulation and orientation towards intimacy. (Reed, Tolman, Ward, & Safyer, 2015) These researchers proposed that attachment orientation might influence the experience and interpretation of digital dating behaviors among high school students. Their hypothesis was based on previous research they conducted on college students that found social media might serve as a trigger for relationship jealousy and anxiety and provide opportunities and tools for inspection and supervision. Electronic intrusion is repeated use of social media to harass, pressure, threaten, or coerce a dating partner, it is a common form of “digital dating abuse.” (Futures with out violence, 2009; Reed, Tolman, & Ward, in press). In their earlier work with college students, they found college women and men that reported higher levels of attachment anxiety were more likely to engage in electronic inclusion in their dating relationships, and college women reporting higher levels of avoidance were less likely to engage in electronic intrusion. (Reed, Tolman, & Safyer, 2015) they found that digital dating communication causes a “cycle of anxiety.” They described the “cycle of anxiety” using 3 phases. First the cycle is triggered by social media information or behaviors (i.e. delayed response to text messages, picture of their partner on facebook at a party, etc.), this trigger then causes anxiety, the second phase, which may lead them to monitor and or invade their partners using digital media. (i.e. sending their partner repeated messages). The researchers replicated their work with college students by performing the same study with high school students. They conducted a self-report cross sectional survey, a survey collecting data to make inferences or generalizations about population, with 9th-12th grade students. The survey included questions measuring their digital media use, dating experience, romantic attachment insecurity, and electric intrusion (invasion of partners privacy through digital media). They found girls were more likely to report electronic intrusion perpetration, as they got older in high school. They found boys identifying same-sex dating behavior were more likely to experience attachment anxiety. They also found girls with higher levels of attachment anxiety were associated with more frequent electronic intrusion behaviors.


In conclusion, the results were consistent with the researchers hypothesis, high school girls reported more electronic intrusion perpetration than boys, and attachment anxiety was associated with frequency of electronic intrusion perpetration for both girls and boys. They found that attachment anxiety was a significant predictor of electronic intrusion, but attachment avoidance was not.

The results of the study showed the “Cycle of anxiety” including 3 phases that was discovered in prior research with college students can be applied across adolescent and young adult dating relationships.

This study was focused completely on the negative impacts digital media has for anxiously attached individuals in dating relationships, but I think it would be interesting to conduct a study focusing on the positive impacts digital media can have on people in dating relationships. I think this is a very important topic to further research, especially with the consistent new developments and growing popularity of digital media in today’s society. I also think it could be beneficial to do more research in the future and try to find why electronic intrusion is more common with girls than boys.



Reed, L. A., Tolman, R. M., Ward, L. M., & Safyer, P. (2016). Keeping tabs: Attachment anxiety and electronic intrusion in high school dating relationships. Computers in Human Behavior, 58, 259-268. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.019


Teen Cell Phone Addiction. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from


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