Attachment style, empathy, and helping following a collective loss: Evidence from the September 11 terrorist attacks

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This study examined the relationships between avoidant and ambivalent attachment dimensions, empathy, and helping behavior in the context of one of the most tragic examples of collective loss in the USA. US college students (314 total: 219 females, 95 males) completed questionnaires between 20 and 42 days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Results from this correlational study confirm previous laboratory experiments finding that attachment style may be related to people's ability to experience empathy and engage in helping behavior. Following the terrorist attacks, those with lower scores on avoidant attachment (i.e., more secure individuals) reported greater empathy with the bereaved. No association was found between the anxious attachment dimension and empathy, most likely due to a curvilinear relationship. Empathy for the bereaved was significantly correlated with helping behavior. Although neither attachment dimension was directly associated with collective helping behavior, avoidant attachment was negatively and indirectly related to collective helping behavior via its relationship with empathy for the bereaved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006



  • Attachment style
  • Collective loss
  • Empathy
  • Helping behavior
  • September 11

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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