An Attachment Theoretical Perspective on Tend-and-Befriend Stress Reactions

Kenneth N. Levy, Jessica K. Hlay, Benjamin N. Johnson, Courtney P. Witmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This study investigates the “tend-and-befriend” hypothesis proposed in 2000 by Taylor and colleagues, which posits that women utilize an alternative stress response to fight-or-flight, ensuring the survival of themselves and their offspring (tend) through the formation of groups (befriend). In contrast, we propose that, while sexes may differ in the use of tend-and-befriend behaviors, attachment style is a more robust predictor of these behaviors. The relationships among sex, adult attachment anxiety and avoidance, and stress responses were examined in 237 young adults. Participants completed the Experiences in Close Relationships—Revised and the Tend-and-Befriend Questionnaire. Results suggest that women preferred tend/befriend and flight responses over men, while men engaged in more fight responses than women. However, importantly, women and men both endorsed being most likely to engage in tend/befriend behaviors during stress than other responses. Attachment style was an independent and robust predictor of all stress responses, with anxious attachment predicting fight and flight behaviors and increased tend/befriend behavior, and avoidant attachment predicting decreased tend/befriend behavior. One interaction was also identified: Women who were more avoidantly attached were as likely as men to engage in fight behaviors, while less avoidant women reported the lowest fight response. Our findings suggest that while sex differences in self-reported tend-and-befriend behaviors may exist, exploration within sexes (an important oversight of previous research) may indicate different patterns of results. We found evidence of strong effects of attachment style on all forms of stress response, even after accounting for sex, indicating the importance of attachment behavior in stress responsivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-439
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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