ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (8): 982-992.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00982

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The effects of episodic simulation on expected responsiveness of partner and attachment security

CAO Xiancai, WANG Dahua(), WANG Yan   

  1. Institute of Developmental Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Received:2019-05-31 Published:2020-08-25 Online:2020-06-28
  • Contact: WANG Dahua
  • Supported by:
    Project of Key Research Base for Humanities and Social Sciences of the Ministry of Education of China.(13JJD190001)


The control-system model of attachment is the most commonly used model to characterize the function of the adult attachment system. It posits that the way for individuals to attain security is to access information on the availability and responsiveness of the attachment figure. According to previous attachment theory, when the attachment figure is absent, the information related to their availability and responsiveness is acquired by accessing the secure base script. However, the function of episodic representation is overlooked during this process. Inspired by the research on episodic simulation and attachment theory, we hypothesized that episodic simulation is an effective episodic representation that could help individuals access information on their partners’ availability and responsiveness and attain security in the attachment control system.

This study investigated whether episodic simulation could promote the expected responsiveness of a partner and attachment security through an experiment. A total of 46 young adults currently involved in a romantic relationship for more than six months were recruited as participants. All the tasks were arranged into two sessions. In session 1, the participants completed a scale related to attachment orientations, then rated six scenarios related to distressful situations that frequently occurred in close relationships from four aspects, namely distressful feeling, willingness to ask one’s partner for help, expected responsiveness of one’s partner, and state attachment security. Three days later, the participants were randomly arranged into an experimental group and a control group to complete the tasks of session 2. For each distressful situation, the participants in the experimental group needed to simulate and write down how they asked their partners for help and how they would solve the distressing problem with the help of their partners. The participants in the control group needed to write down the possible outcomes when the situation happened in a regular couple. Subsequently, all the participants rated the situation again from the four aspects used in session 1.

The results revealed no rating differences between the two groups in the pretest. In the posttest, the experimental group had higher ratings in expected responsiveness of their partners and state attachment security compared to the control group. When considering the changes from the pretest to the posttest in each rating (calculated using the scores in the posttest minus those in the pretest), we found that the promotion in expected responsiveness of partners was significantly correlated with the promotion in state attachment security. Moreover, the experimental group had higher promotions in their rating of expected responsiveness of their partners and state attachment security, as well as higher reduction in state attachment avoidance, compared to the control group. However, no group differences were observed in the rating changes related to distressful feelings, willingness to ask one’s partner for help, or state attachment anxiety. All the results were the same after controlling for attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety, which are rooted in individuals’ stable attachment script.

The results indicated that episodic simulation could function independently of the attachment script in the attachment control system. Episodic simulation could help individuals access information related to the responsiveness of their partners and attain security. This study provided a supplement for the attachment control-system model.

Key words: adult attachment, control-system model of attachment, episodic simulation, responsiveness of partner, attachment security