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An extreme form of online dating deception, also known as “catfishing,” involves falsely representing oneself to a potential romantic partner, without the intention of meeting in person. The limited body of existing research has identified mental health risks and legal implications associated with catfishing, as this relatively new phenomenon becomes more prevalent. This study utilizes logistic regression to analyze attachment anxiety, avoidance, and gender as predictor variables for the likelihood of being a catfish perpetrator or target among a sample of adults (N = 1107). Results indicate that women are more likely to be targets and men are more likely to perpetrate this form of online dating deception. Further, increased attachment anxiety and avoidance increases the likelihood of being both a catfish perpetrator and target. However, avoidance was no longer a significant predictor after controlling for attachment anxiety. These findings provide a valuable contribution to the literature toward greater understanding of catfishing and offer possible implications for attachment-informed clinical practice.
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Sexual and Relationship Therapy
ISSN: 1468-1994 (Print) 1468-1749 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/csmt20
Adult attachment and online dating deception: a
theory modernized
Marissa A. Mosley, Morgan Lancaster, M. L. Parker & Kelly Campbell
To cite this article: Marissa A. Mosley, Morgan Lancaster, M. L. Parker & Kelly Campbell (2020):
Adult attachment and online dating deception: a theory modernized, Sexual and Relationship
Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/14681994.2020.1714577
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2020.1714577
Published online: 28 Jan 2020.
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Adult attachment and online dating deception: a
theory modernized
Marissa A. Mosley
a
, Morgan Lancaster
a
, M. L. Parker
a
and
Kelly Campbell
b
a
Department of Family and Child Sciences, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA;
b
University
of California San Bernardino, San Bernardino, CA, USA
ABSTRACT
An extreme form of online dating deception, also known as
catfishing,involves falsely representing oneself to a potential
romantic partner, without the intention of meeting in person. The
limited body of existing research has identified mental health risks
and legal implications associated with catfishing, as this relatively
new phenomenon becomes more prevalent. This study utilizes
logistic regression to analyze attachment anxiety, avoidance, and
gender as predictor variables for the likelihood of being a catfish
perpetrator or target among a sample of adults (N¼1107).
Results indicate that women are more likely to be targets and
men are more likely to perpetrate this form of online dating
deception. Further, increased attachment anxiety and avoidance
increases the likelihood of being both a catfish perpetrator and
target. However, avoidance was no longer a significant predictor
after controlling for attachment anxiety. These findings provide a
valuable contribution to the literature toward greater understand-
ing of catfishing and offer possible implications for attachment-
informed clinical practice.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 20 September 2019
Accepted 4 January 2020
KEYWORDS
Adult attachment; dating;
deception; technology
The use of technology in the dating process offers new and expanded platforms for
participants to meet prospective partners and initiate on-going relationships. As a
result, nearly 30% of young adults, 1824 years old, and 12% of older adults,
5564 years old, are using online dating (Pew Research Institute, 2016). The Pew
Research Institute (2016) reports the majority of online dating users, as well as non-
users, believe online dating forums provide a more convenient and efficient platform
for meeting prospective dating partners. Yet, technology also allows individuals to
create false representations of themselves to increase their mate potential and foster a
relationship they would not otherwise initiate (Ellison, Hancock, & Toma, 2011). In
fact, nearly half of online dating participants believe there is more risk associated
with online dating than with traditional dating formats (Pew Research Institute,
2016). The growing phenomenon of online dating deception, colloquially referred to
CONTACT Marissa A. Mosley mmosley@fsu.edu Department of Family and Child Sciences, Florida State
University, 675 W Call St., Tallahassee, FL 32304, USA
ß2020 College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists
SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY
https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2020.1714577
as catfishing,is described as the intentional misrepresentation of various aspects of
ones self in pursuing an exclusively online relationship (Campbell, in press). Online
dating deception is growing as a topic of research due to its potentially harmful
consequences.
Catfishing has become so prevalent that there are growing calls for legislation and
policy advancement to protect online daters (Koch, 2017; Smith, Smith, & Blazka,
2017). Online dating deception also poses significant mental health risks and is con-
sidered a negative and traumatic experience for vulnerable populations who use
online dating (Lauckner et al., 2019). Most of the current literature related to online
dating deception is focused on the victimization of catfishtargets to identify the
associated risks. However, there is comparatively less information about the perpetra-
tors of online dating deception. As a relational theory, Attachment Theory (Bowlby,
1969) offers a useful lens for examining targets and perpetrators of online dating
deception to contribute to this growing area of research.
Online dating deception
A core motivation for deception, or misrepresentation, in online dating is to present
a more desirable self in order to attract prospective partners (Toma, Hancock, &
Ellison, 2008). More specific motivations for deception include gaining attention or
acceptance, safety, anonymity, personal gain, or avoiding conflict (Drouin, Miller,
Wehle, & Hernandez, 2016). Gender comparisons indicate men more frequently mis-
represent assets, relationship goals, interests, and personal attributes, whereas women
often misrepresent physical characteristics in online dating (Hall, Park, Song, &
Cody, 2010). Men are more likely to enhance their positive characteristics when a
face-to-face meeting was less likely to take place (Guadagno, Okdie, & Kruse, 2012).
Ellison and colleagues (2011) discovered that the acceptability of online deceptions by
online daters may vary according to the malleability of features (e.g., hairstyle or
facial hair), the magnitude of the misrepresentation (e.g., two-inch vs. ten inch height
difference), or the subjectivity of the self-description (e.g., attractiveness). Participants
also rationalized their personal misrepresentation through the concept of multiple
selves referenced from a broad temporal spectrum (e.g., past and future self).
Although perpetrators and targets of online deception have inconsistent expecta-
tions about meeting in person, catfishrelationships may last years (Campbell, in
press). Dating relationships that are not maintained through technological means
(i.e., in-person relationships) demonstrate a significant association between romantic
expectations and relationship outcomes, such as investment and commitment
(Vannier & OSullivan, 2018). Due to inconsistent expectations for meeting in person,
it stands to reason that catfishrelationship outcomes (e.g., satisfaction, investment)
may also be affected. Despite the incompatible interests between perpetrators and tar-
gets, the noted duration of catfishrelationships suggests some degree of relational
needs are being met for both parties. Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969,1973)isa
relational theory that offers an ideal framework to explore the emotional needs that
may predict ones likelihood of using deception or to be targeted for deception in
online relationships.
2 M. A. MOSLEY ET AL.
Attachment theory
Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969,1973) was originally proposed as a framework for
understanding the means by which individuals develop emotional security and stabil-
ity over the life course. Throughout the early stages of development, infants develop
the ability to regulate emotional arousal through interactions with and proximity to
their caregivers (Schore, 2000,2001). Main (1995) explained that both infants and
parents communicate their attachment needs through the intricate learning process of
attunement. Over time, repeated interactions with the primary caregiver contribute to
ones internal working model of relationships, which is the means by which relational
interactions are filtered over the lifespan (Bowlby, 1973). In adulthood, romantic
partners become the object of attachment from whom individuals seek support and
to whom they provide care (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Adultstolerance for proximity
(i.e., fear of dependence) and distance (i.e., fear of abandonment) in relationships
inform the two dimensions that determine ones style of attachment; anxiety and
avoidance (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998). More specifically, high attachment anx-
iety or avoidance has been associated with injurious relationship outcomes according
to the particular attachment style. Figure 1 details the four-category model of adult
attachment styles first proposed by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991). Secure, fear-
ful, preoccupied, and dismissing styles of adult attachment are based on the respective
levels of attachment avoidance and anxiety (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). There
is substantial empirical support indicating attachment anxiety and avoidance have
unique roles in various relationship concerns, such as infidelity (Parker & Campbell,
2017), divorce (Diamond, Brimhall, & Elliot, 2018), and intimate partner violence
(Dutton & White, 2012).
While attachment theory has been supported in cross-cultural comparisons of
infants and caregivers (Carlson & Harwood, 2003), there have been notable gender
differences among adults. For example, Kirpatrick and Davis (1994) found that
attachment security (i.e., low anxiety and avoidance) for men was predictive of
Anxiety
Preoccu
p
ied Fearful
Dismissin
g
Secure
Figure 1. Dimensions and styles of adult attachment.
SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY 3
positive relationship quality compared to those with anxious attachment. On the
other hand, the authors found anxious attachment was predictive of negative relation-
ship quality. Such differences are perhaps due to varying interpretations of attach-
ment assessment between men and women. Notably, the range in a personal desire
for closeness was a characteristic shown to contribute to the assessment of attachment
anxiety for women, but not for men (Parker, Johnson, & Ketring, 2011). On the other
hand, time spent together contributed to the assessment of mens, but not womens
anxious attachment. Further, clinical research has demonstrated gender differences in
the influence of adult attachment on mental health treatment outcomes. Womens
personal attachment avoidance and anxiety predicts symptom distress over time (i.e.,
actor effect), whereas mens symptom distress is predicted by their female partners
attachment (Parker, Johnson, & Ketring, 2012). Ongoing research indicates there are
gender differences in adult attachment and technology use among couples that main-
tain in-person relationships (Pew Research Center, 2014). A more in-depth under-
standing of adult attachment dimensions, anxiety and avoidance, in the context of
online dating may clarify the role of attachment in online deception.
Attachment anxiety
Attachment anxiety is characterized by a strong fear of abandonment that results in
an excessive need for closeness and intense worry about a partners availability
(Cozolino, 2014). Mikulincer and Shaver (2017) explain those with high attachment
anxiety often present themselves as helpless, needy, or overly eager in order to
achieve the support and love they desire. They are more readily willing to utilize their
partner as a source of support early in the relationship and seek daily reassurance
(Eastwick & Finkel, 2008). Further, such individuals tend to self-disclose earlier in a
relationship and with more highly intimate information in order to achieve a strong
connection and to alleviate their own anxiety. Individuals with high attachment anx-
iety (i.e., preoccupied, fearful styles) are also prone to intense emotional experiences
such as jealousy and fear due to their inclination to keep previous experiences of
rejection available in working memory (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2017).
Despite an intense desire for closeness and worry about the relationship, studies
have found that anxiously attached partners have a difficult time being responsive to
their partnersneeds due to a preoccupation with their own worries (Grabill & Kerns,
2000; Mikulincer & Nachshon, 1991). Emotional attunement and support for their
partner is difficult due to preoccupation with worries around their role in the rela-
tionship, resulting in the need to soothe their own worries rather than tending to the
needs of the partner (Feeney, Noller, & Callan, 1994; Rholes, Paetzold, & Friedman,
2008). These characteristics are often used to explain the higher prevalence of particu-
lar adverse relational experiences, such as infidelity, among those with high attach-
ment anxiety, which may be an effort to regulate emotional distress (Parker &
Campbell, 2017). Attachment anxiety is uniquely characterized by the individuals
fear of abandonment by the source of emotional security. However, the manifestation
of these needs is dependent on the individuals co-occurring level of attach-
ment avoidance.
4 M. A. MOSLEY ET AL.
Attachment avoidance
Attachment avoidance is defined by an overt fear of dependence and intolerance for proxim-
ity to significant others during times of distress (Cassidy, 1995). Those with high attachment
avoidance (i.e., fearful and dismissing styles) often prioritize self-reliance and respond to
emotional distress with disengagement. In the initial formation of relationships, attachment
avoidant individuals may present themselves as lacking interest to preserve their existing self-
reliance due to their intolerance for closeness (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2017). The level and
type of self-disclosure within a relationship is also affected by attachment avoidance. In gen-
eral, those with high avoidance are reluctant to self-disclose due to their expectations of
potential negative outcomes in relationships (Cameron, Holmes, & Vorauer, 2009). The low
self-disclosure associated with avoidance often increases the potential for deceiving partners
in romantic relationships (Ennis, Vrij, & Chance, 2008).
Partners high on attachment avoidance tend to be less interested in utilizing their
romantic partner as a source of emotional support, causing difficulty with affection or
even general interest in conversations (Bombar & Littig, 1996; Dillow, Goodboy, &
Bolkan, 2014; Guerrero, 1996). The avoidant individual is less interested in the
thoughts and feelings of their romantic partner and tends to misperceive signs of
responsiveness from their partner (Beck, Pietromonaco, DeVito, Powers, & Boyle, 2014;
Feeney et al., 1994; Noller & Feeney, 1994; Rholes, Simpson, Tran, Martin, &
Friedman, 2007). The lack of interest and misconception about interacting with roman-
tic partners results in avoidant individuals being less accurate when inferring partners
feelings, ultimately, lacking an understanding of their partners emotional lives
(Simpson et al., 2011). Due to increased use of withdraw and disengagement associated
with attachment avoidance, the use of technology in relationships may offer unique
opportunities to understand the influence of attachment on relational outcomes.
Adult attachment and technology
Attachment security (i.e., low anxiety and avoidance) informs the ways in which men
and women use various forms of technology to meet their personal and partners
emotional needs (Jin & Pe~
na, 2010). Research suggests technology offers a unique
mechanism to examine the attachment needs of individuals with high anxiety and
avoidance throughout the various phases of the relationship. Individuals with high
avoidance are able to initiate relationships from a tolerable distance, whereas those
with high anxiety have more control and greater accessibility to prospective partners,
thereby reducing abandonment or rejection fears (Goodcase, Nalbone, Hecker, &
Latty, 2018). Goodcase and colleagues (2018) subsequently found that high anxiety
and avoidance predicted decreased relationship satisfaction in comparison to those
with low anxiety and avoidance (i.e., secure) when the relationships were initiated
online. Attachment style also affects the emotional response of individuals in estab-
lished relationships. Specifically, those with higher attachment anxiety felt connected
to partners through social media monitoring and status updates (Morey, Gentzler,
Creasy, Oberhauser, & Westerman, 2013). On the other hand, individuals with high
avoidance felt greater relationship satisfaction and connection to a partner when text-
ing was more frequent, perhaps due to the less intimate nature of technology-based
SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY 5
communication (Morey et al., 2013). In addition to the initiation of relationships,
attachment has also been used to examine the use of technology as a means of rela-
tionship dissolution, wherein individuals with high anxiety and avoidance more read-
ily use technology to break-up with partners when compared to securely attached
individuals (Weisskirch & Delevi, 2012,2013).
Attachment dimensions have also been examined to explain the ways in which
technology impacts perceived relationship quality and stability. Specifically, greater
accessibility to ones partner was beneficial to those with high anxiety and those with
high avoidance experienced a more comfortable distance to connect with partners
using technology (Schade, Sandberg, Bean, Busby, & Coyne, 2013). Although these
findings provide preliminary evidence of the role of adult attachment in technology
use for in-person relationships, there is limited research examining the role of attach-
ment in relationships maintained solely through technology. The present study fills
this gap by exploring the influence of adult attachment on the likelihood of being a
perpetrator or target of a catfishrelationship.
The present study
As previously identified, adult attachment styles inform how one uses technology to
initiate, function, and communicate with their partner. Based on the extant literature
that supports the influence of adult attachment on the use of technology in in-person
relationships, the present study aims to examine the interrelationship between attach-
ment dimensions (i.e., anxiety, avoidance), gender, and catfishstatus (i.e., perpetra-
tor, target) in online-only relationships among the participants. To achieve this aim,
the following research questions were formed: What is the role of gender in predict-
ing whether a person perpetrates or becomes a target of online dating deception?
What is the role of insecure adult attachment dimensions in predicting whether a
person perpetrates or becomes a target of online dating deception?
Procedures
Participants were recruited over a 1-year timeframe from social media platforms (e.g.,
Twitter, Facebook), Craigs List volunteer boards, a PsychologyToday.com blog, and
university participant pools. The criteria for inclusion were that individuals were at
least 18 years old and had experienced catfishing, either as a perpetrator or target.
Participants provided online consent for research participation in accordance with the
American Psychological Associations ethical standards for research participation.
Each participant was asked to complete a series of questionnaires related to his or her
personal and relational history. No compensation was offered, but university partici-
pants were offered extra credit toward their classes.
Participants
The total sample included 1112 participants; however, 10 participants were excluded
as they did not answer the catfish question. The final sample included 917 women
6 M. A. MOSLEY ET AL.
and 190 men (N¼1107) with a mean age of 24.9 years (SD ¼7.76; range ¼1862).
Participants self-identified as African American (10.3%), Asian (5.3%), European
American (25.4%), Hispanic (50.2%), Middle Eastern (1.2%), Native American (6.3%),
and Other (1.2%). Participants identified their sexual identity as heterosexual (87.2%),
bisexual (7.1%), gay (2.2%), and lesbian (2.2%). The majority of the sample was
highly educated, as 69.8% reported 13 years of college.
Measures
Demographic characteristics
Participants were asked to identify their sex, age, ethnic background, sexual orienta-
tion, education level, student and/or employment status, political orientation, religios-
ity (4-point Likert scale ranging from not at all religiousto extremely religious),
whether they had children, and residential location (urban/city, suburban, rural) at
the time of their catfish relationship.
Online dating deception
There is not currently a formalized assessment instrument for this form of online dat-
ing deception (i.e., catfishing). Therefore, participants were asked a series of questions
related to catfishing and behaviors that were relevant to the research questions for
this study. Specifically, participants were asked to select which of the three categories
of catfishing status that most accurately categorized them: a catfish victim, perpetra-
tor, or both. These three categories were mutually exclusive such that no participant
could select that they identified with more than one. Participants were also asked
questions such as: how many catfish relationships have you had? what was the length
of your longest catfish relationship? and which methods of communication did you use
to communicate with your catfish partner?
Adult attachment
Adult attachment style was assessed using the Experiences in Close Relationships-
Short Form (ECR-S; Wei, Russell, Mallinckrodt, & Vogel, 2007), which is a shortened
version of the ECR (Brennan et al., 1998). The ECR-S continues to assess the two
separate dimensions of adult attachment, Anxiety and Avoidance, consistent with the
ECR. However, the ECR-S is a 12-item, self-report scale (Compared to the 36-items
of the ECR) in which responses are reported on a 7-point, Likert scale ranging from
Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. The ECR-S maintains comparable validity and
factor structure to the ECR across multiple studies. Testretest reliability of the 6-
item Anxiety (r¼.80) and Avoidance (r¼.83) subscales indicated strong reliability
of the instrument. Cronbachs alpha scores of the Anxiety (a¼.76) and Avoidance
(a¼.76) subscales from the current study were consistent with those of the original
study, indicating good internal consistency of the instrument.
SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY 7
Analysis
To ensure that the three catfishing categories were significantly different from one
another, a one-way analysis of variance was conducted. Results indicated there was a
significant difference between the three catfish groups for anxiety, F(2, 1082) ¼16.32,
p<.00 and avoidance F(2, 1085) ¼2.72, p¼.05. A Tukeys post hoc analysis identi-
fied a significant difference in anxiety between the bothand targetgroups (p<
.00) and the targetand perpetratorgroups (p<.00). However, there was no dif-
ference in anxiety between bothand perpetratorgroups. Post hoc analyses also
revealed no significant difference in avoidance between the three groups. Due to (1)
the lack of significant difference in anxiety or avoidance between the bothgroup
and the perpetratorgroup and (2) the significant difference in anxiety between the
bothgroup and the targetgroup, the perpetratorand bothgroups were com-
bined into a single group for parsimony of the model.
The choice to use logistic regression for the current study was based on previous
literature which suggests attachment-related issues can, in part, explain relational
processes (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005). Subsequently, the data met several assump-
tions: first, binary logistic regression requires that the outcome variable be dichotom-
ous; second, the observations in logistic regression should be independent from each
other; third, logistic regression assumes little or no multicollinearity among independ-
ent variables; and fourth, a large sample size (Menard, 2000). Lastly, three logistic
regression models were tested. The first model assessed whether gender was a signifi-
cant predictor of catfishing status (i.e., perpetrator, target). The second model
assessed whether gender and attachment avoidance were significant predictors of cat-
fish status. Finally, the third model assessed whether gender, avoidance, and attach-
ment anxiety were significant predictors of catfishing status.
Results
Table 1 presents the results from the crosstabulation, which indicates that of the 917
women in the sample, 23% identify as catfish perpetrators, and 77% identify as catfish
targets. Of the 190 men in the sample, 38% identified as catfish perpetrators, while
62% were targets of catfishing behavior. Results of the independent samples t-test
indicate a significant difference between the target and perpetrator groups for anxiety
t(1083) ¼-5.69, p<.01 and avoidance t(1086) ¼-2.33, p¼.02.
Table 2 presents the results from the three logistic regression models, with gender,
attachment avoidance, and attachment anxiety predicting the likelihood that partici-
pants identified as one of two catfishing status groups: targets or the combined group
Table 1. Descriptive statistics and crosstabulation of attachment dimensions and online dating
deception status.
Gender Attachment dimensions
Catfish status Women (N) % Men (N) % Anxiety M(SD) Avoidance M(SD)
Target 706 77 118 62 23.10(7.58) 17.78(6.94)
Perpetrator 211 23 72 38 26.11(7.62) 17.91(7.07)
Total 917 190
8 M. A. MOSLEY ET AL.
of perpetrators and both. Model 1 analyzes gender as a predictor of catfish status.
Model 2 analyses gender and attachment avoidance as predictors of catfish status.
Model 3 analyses gender, attachment avoidance, and attachment anxiety as predictors
of catfish status.
Model 1
The overall gender model was significant, explaining 2% (Nagelkerke R
2
) of the vari-
ance in catfish status. Gender was a significant predictor of catfish status (v
2
(2) ¼
18.04, p<.001) indicating that as scores increased, from women (0) to men (1), the
likelihood of being a perpetrator increased (b¼-.73, p<.001). Odds ratios indicated
that women were nearly 50% more likely to be a target of online dating deception.
Model 2
The overall attachment avoidance model with gender (Model 2) was significant,
explaining 3% (Nagelkerke R
2
) of the variance in online dating deception.
Attachment avoidance was independently a significant predictor to the overall model
(v
2
(2) ¼4.41, p<.05). The regression coefficients and odds ratios indicated that as
attachment avoidance scores increased, the likelihood of being a catfish perpetrator
increased (b¼-.02, p<.05). Odds ratios indicated that those high on attachment
avoidance were 98% more likely to perpetrate than those with low attachment avoid-
ance. Gender was also an independently significant predictor to the overall model
(v
2
(2) ¼17.70, p<.001). The regression coefficients and odds ratios indicated that
women were 50% more likely to be a target compared to men (b¼-.72, p<.001).
Model 3
The overall attachment anxiety model with gender and attachment avoidance was sig-
nificant, explaining 7% (Nagelkerke R
2
) of the variance in online dating deception.
Attachment anxiety was independently a significant predictor to the overall model
(v
2
(2) ¼45.15, p<.001). The regression coefficients and odds ratios indicated that
as attachment anxiety scores increased, the likelihood of being a catfish perpetrator
increased (b¼.70, p<.001). Odds ratios indicated that those scoring higher on
Table 2. Gender, Gender & Attachment Avoidance, and Gender & Attachment Avoidance &
Attachment Anxiety predicting catfish status.
Model Predictor Nagelkerke R
2
bSE Wald v
2
Odds ratio
Model 1 Constant .02 1.23 .08 232.09 3.41
Gender -.73 .17 18.04 .48
Model 2 Constant .03 1.60 .20 66.22 4.92
Gender -.72 .17 17.70 .49
Avoidance -.02.01 4.41 .98
Model 3 Constant .07 2.66 .30 78.75 14.23
Gender -.71 .18 16.71 .49
Avoidance -.01 .01 1.76 .99
Anxiety -.05 .01 25.13 .95
p<.05; p<.001
SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY 9
attachment anxiety were 95% more likely to perpetrate than those with lower anxiety.
Gender was also an independently significant predictor to the overall anxiety attach-
ment model (v
2
(2) ¼15.95, p<.001). The regression coefficients and odds ratios
indicated that women were 50% more likely to be a target compared to men (b¼
.05, p<.001). Attachment avoidance is was no longer significant when including
attachment anxiety (v
2
(2) ¼1.76, p¼.19) indicating that avoidance is only significant
when both anxiety and avoidance are high (i.e., fearful attachment).
Discussion
As the research on technology use in romantic relationships continues to grow, an
adult attachment perspective provides a useful lens for understanding the interaction
between relationships and technologys benefits and risks. A fundamental assumption
of attachment theory is that ones emotional arousal is affected personal interactions
with significant others (Bowlby, 1973). The rapidly expanding use of technology in
relationships is essentially challenging and changing what we have considered funda-
mental to the attunement process associated with attachment relationships. One
means of reexamining the role of technology in adult attachment is to isolate the
effect of technology from those of in-person relationships by examining online-only
relationships. Catfish relationships are one example of technology-maintained rela-
tionships, characterized by a lack of in-person interactions (Campbell, in press). Our
results offer preliminary findings for the significance of attachment anxiety and
avoidance as predictors of perpetrating or being a target of catfishing. Specifically, the
main findings of this study were indicate that men are more likely to be perpetrators
and women are more likely to be targets of catfishing. Attachment avoidance was an
independent predictor of catfishing status. However, avoidance was no longer signifi-
cant when accounting for attachment anxiety, suggesting that anxiety is a more sig-
nificant consideration in predicting catfishing status.
Gender
Gender differences exist with respect to technology and social media use, which
explains why gender served as a predictor in catfishing status. Women are connecting
more via technology and using it for relationship maintenance (Kimbrough,
Guadagno, Muscanell, & Dill, 2013; Muscanell & Guadagno, 2012), which may
explain their desire to persist in a relationship (i.e., maintain it) even when their part-
ner refuses to meet in-person, and thereby increases their likelihood of becoming a
catfish target. Men engage less frequently in social networking and communication
technologies, but utilize it to meet new people and potential dates (Kimbrough et al.,
2013; Muscanell & Guadagno, 2012). Such findings may explain the tendency of men
to initiate relationships online and possibly use deception to broaden their pool of
potential partners. In terms of sharing information via social media, women and men
have both been significantly affected by privacy risk, social ties, and commitment.
However, women were more affected by these factors (Lin & Wang, 2020). These are
consistent with our findings that men were more likely to withhold information
10 M. A. MOSLEY ET AL.
about their true identity when engaging with others online. Women notably spend
more time on Facebook than men, leading to greater social comparisons, a factor that
is known to adversely affect self-esteem (Bargagna & Tartaglia, 2018). Increased
Facebook use coupled with low self-esteem makes women more vulnerable to catfish
targeting, further explaining the findings of the present study.
Adult attachment
An important result from this study is that both anxiety and avoidance were inde-
pendently significant predictors of catfish status. However, attachment avoidance was
no longer significant when accounting for anxiety. While ongoing research is neces-
sary to explain this finding, adult attachment research offers a possible explanation.
Individuals with high attachment anxiety and high avoidance (i.e., fearful style)
reportedly experience the same fears of abandonment as those with preoccupied
attachment (i.e., high anxiety, low avoidance), but respond to emotional distress by
withdrawing instead of proximity seeking (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2017). Applied to
the present study, an overrepresentation of participants characterized by high anxiety
and high avoidance (i.e., fearful) would explain this finding, since attachment anxiety
was a significant predictor of catfish status over and above avoidance. Those with
high attachment avoidance and low anxiety (i.e., dismissing) may not participate in
catfish relationships because, similar to in-person relationships, they experience an
underlying fear of dependence that is alleviated by overt self-reliance (Cozolino,
2014). Thus, avoidant individuals demonstrate a lack of online activity when com-
pared to their more anxious counterparts (Monacis, de Palo, Griffiths, &
Sinatra, 2017).
One study found that preoccupied attachment was positively correlated with prob-
lematic Internet use (Odacı&C¸ıkrıkc¸ı,2014). Although catfishing is not specifically
included in the measure of problematic Internet use, it would follow that deceptive
behaviors are considered problematic use and help explain our finding regarding
attachment anxiety. Online dating deception may be working in accordance with
attachment needs for the preoccupied or fearful partner, allowing them to be met and
soothed from a safe distance and maintain more comfortable levels of commitment.
Researchers have found that individuals with fearful or preoccupied attachment view
themselves negatively in close relationships; however, a fearful attachment allows indi-
viduals to be less vigilant and self-disclose more readily in online relationships
(Buote, Wood, & Pratt, 2009). The negative self-view and increased self-disclosure
may explain why these individuals were more likely to be involved in online dating
deception, in order to present themselves as more favorable and make connections
more easily.
Perhaps by focusing on the level of commitment that is comfortable for both
attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, we are better able to understand why
people within these attachment dimensions engage in online dating deception. One
study found that anxious people reported higher levels of relationship costs and avoi-
dant people reported lower levels of investment (Pistole, Clark, & Tubbs, 1995),
which is indicative of how online dating deception can help meet attachment needs,
SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY 11
and ultimately, lead to relationship satisfaction. Anxiously attached individuals and
those with a more fearful attachment, experience higher levels of relational uncer-
tainty than their secure or dismissive counterparts (Fox & Warber, 2014), which may
cause them to engage in more deceptive behaviors to relieve anxiety and maintain a
relationship. Anxiously attached online users are more likely to utilize online plat-
forms to receive approval and positive feedback (Monacis et al., 2017). This explains
why these individuals were more likely to perpetrate online dating deceptionthey
sought to exert more control over their self-presentation, make themselves more
desirable, and ultimately limit the potential of relational disappointment. On the
other hand, avoidant individuals may utilize technology to ensure low expectations
placed on them by a partner and use deception to meet relationship and attachment
needs by limiting vulnerability and allowing minimal investment in a relationship.
Clinical implications
As online dating deception becomes more prevalent with the development of online
dating platforms, individuals may be presenting to therapy with limited understand-
ing as to why this occurred and how to move forward. The findings of this study
inform how clinicians work with perpetrators and targets of online dating deception.
By using an adult attachment lens, online dating deception may be perceived and
treated as an attachment injury (Johnson, Makinen, & Millikin, 2001) for both the
target and perpetrator. Clinicians are able to work with clients engaged in catfishing
as a target or perpetrator to address the underlying emotional needs associated with
their personal attachment style. Attachment-informed clinical approaches, such as
emotionally focused therapy emphasize the role of the therapist as a secure base so
that clients may engage in corrective attachment experiences (Greenman & Johnson,
2013). This stance is particularly relevant to clients participating as a target or perpet-
rator of catfishing, as the therapist can facilitate in-session experiences to reduce the
reliance on deceptive online relationships. However, there is ongoing research neces-
sary to substantiate these clinical recommendations, as this study had several
limitations.
Limitations and future directions
While the study is unique in adopting an adult attachment lens and contributing to
the literature in online dating deception, there are some limitations to be noted. The
cross-sectional design and convenience sampling limited our ability to infer a causal,
generalizable relationship between attachment and online deception; however, our
findings represent an important first step in building future research on this topic.
The study also did not have a control group, which may be beneficial in future
research so that comparisons can be drawn between typical online daters and those
who have experienced catfishing. Participants were able to self-identify as a target,
perpetrator, or both, which may pose a threat to internal validity. Future researchers
would benefit from having a measure to assess the wide spectrum of online dating
deception behaviors associated with catfishing. This will allow a continuous
12 M. A. MOSLEY ET AL.
assessment of catfish severity and degree. Finally, future studies should include a
more racially and ethnically diverse sample to strengthen internal validity of the find-
ings. Results from the present study should only be generalized to those demographic
groups that were represented in the sample.
Conclusion
The results of this study help inform and advance adult attachment theory, particu-
larly with respect to dating in the digital era. Our goal was to gain further insight
into adult attachment, the developing realm of online dating, and the potential for
deception that exists, including how it is informed by attachment insecurities and
needs. Focusing on attunement as the key component of attachment throughout the
lifespan, it can be understood that technology is preventing this process by creating a
barrier. This works in favor of online dating deception by letting users choose
unaccountable levels of self-presentation and self-disclosure, creating more permeable
boundaries, and allowing more permissive behaviors in relationship formation. By
understanding the roles of gender and adult attachment style in predicting online dat-
ing deception, researchers can further understand and develop the topic, clinicians
can treat the attachment injuries that occur, and online dating users can better exam-
ine how they present themselves in their profiles and those of their potential partners
to improve relationship potential.
Disclosure statement
No funding was provided to conduct this research. No potential conflict of interest was
reported by the authors. The data are not publicly available due to their containing informa-
tion that could compromise the privacy of research participants.
Notes on contributors
Marissa A. Mosley, M.A. is a doctoral student in the Marriage and Family Therapy program
in the Department of Family and Child Sciences at Florida State University. Her research
focuses on technology use in romantic relationships and adult attachment.
Morgan Lancaster, M.S. is a doctoral candidate in the Marriage and Family Therapy program
in the Department of Family and Child Sciences at Florida State University. Her research
focuses on intimate partner violence and technology use in interpersonal relationships.
M.L. Parker, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Child Sciences
at Florida State University. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her research is
focused on evaluating the effectiveness of couples and family therapy, family therapy for fami-
lies affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in collaborative care settings, and the role of
the supervisory relationship in self-of-therapist development.
Kelly Campbell, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, San
Bernardino. She serves as the Associate Director for the Institute for Child Development and
Family Relations, co-directs a South Africa study abroad program, and teaches for the London
study abroad program. Her research examines couple relationships and friendships including
deceptive online romance (known as catfishing), infidelity, instant connections (e.g., chemis-
try), and love.
SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY 13
ORCID
Marissa A. Mosley http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3907-8900
Morgan Lancaster http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0574-176X
M. L. Parker http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4296-3687
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SEXUAL AND RELATIONSHIP THERAPY 17
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Bu çalışmada, çevrimiçi buluşma uygulamaları kullanma motivasyonları ile ilişki sonlandırma stilleri arasındaki ilişkide karanlık üçlü kişilik özellikleri olarak adlandırılan narsisizm, makyavelizm ve psikopatinin düzenleyici rolü incelenmiştir. İlişki sonlandırma stilleri olarak iletişimi kesmek amacıyla aniden ortadan kaybolma anlamına gelen hayaletleme (ghosting) ve belirsiz zamanlarda kısıtlı ilgi gösterme anlamına gelen oyalama (breadcrumbing) ele alınmıştır. Çalışmaya halihazırda çevrimiçi buluşma uygulamalarını kullanmakta olan 18 – 29 yaş aralığındaki (Ort. = 25.08, SS = 2.84) 193 kişi katılmıştır. Demografik bilgi formunun yanı sıra Sumter ve arkadaşları (2017) tarafından geliştirilen Çevrimiçi Buluşma Uygulamaları Kullanım Motivasyonları Ölçeği’nin Türkçeye çevrilmiş versiyonu, Jones ve Paulhus (2014) tarafından geliştirilip Özsoy ve arkadaşları (2017) tarafından Türkçe’ye uyarlanan Kısaltılmış Karanlık Üçlü Ölçeği ve araştırmacı tarafından hazırlanan Hayaletleme - Oyalama Davranışları Anketi kullanılarak veri toplanmıştır. Toplanan veriler SPSS aracılığıyla analiz edilmiştir. Ölçüm araçlarının faktör yapısını belirlemek amacıyla faktör analizi yürütülmüş ve çevrimiçi tanışm uygulamalarının altı farklı motivasyonla kullanılmakta olduğu görülmüştür. Bunlar Eğlence Arayışı, Özgüven İhtiyacı, Cinsellik, İletişim Kolaylığı, Bilgi Edinme ve İlişki Başlatma’dır. Çevrimiçi tanışma uygulamaları kullanım motivasyonlarında, hayaletleme – oyalama davranışlarında ve karanlık üçlü kişilik özelliklerinde cinsiyet farkını saptamak amacıyla yürütülen bağımsız örneklemler t – testlerinin sonucunda erkeklerin kadınlara kıyasla daha çok cinsellik amacıyla çevrimiçi buluşma uygulamalarını kullandığı, karanlık üçlü kişilik özelliklerinin psikopati alt boyutundan daha yüksek puan aldığı tespit edilmiştir. Hayaletleme – oyalama davranışları açısından ise cinsiyet farkı saptanamamıştır. Çevrimiçi tanışma uygulamaları kullanım motivasyonları ve hayaletleme – oyalama davranışları ile yaş arasındaki ilişkiyi saptamak amacıyla yürütülen korelasyon analizleri sonrasında yaşın eğlence arayışı ve özgüven ihtiyacı ile, ayrıca hem hayaletleme hem de oyalama davranışı ile negatif anlamlı ilişki içerisinde olduğu bulgulanmıştır. Ayrıca hayaletleme – oyalama davranışları üzerinde çevrimiçi tanışmauygulamaları kullanım motivasyonlarının ve karanlık üçlü kişilik özelliklerinin etkisini görmek amacıyla regresyon analizleri yürütülmüş; eğlence arayışı ve makyavelizmin hayaletlemeyi, eğlence arayışı ile ilişki başlatma ve makyavelizm ile psikopatinin oyalamayı yordadığı görülmüştür. Düzenleyici değişken analizleri sonucunda ise yalnızca eğlence arayışının hayaletleme üzerindeki etkisinde psikopatinin düzenleyici rolünün bulunduğu görülmüştür. Sonuçlar, hayaletleme ve oyalama davranışlarının ilişkili olduğu ve etkilendiği faktörler hakkında bilgiler sağlamaktadır. Bu çalışma aracılığıyla Türkçe literatüre kazandırılan hayaletleme ve oyalama davranışları hakkında yapılacak gelecek çalışmaların, bu bilgilerin çoğaltılması yönünde katkı sağlayacağı tahmin edilmektedir.
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Catfish refer to people who use a false online persona to engage in one or more romantic relationships. The present study was guided by the Couple and Family Technology Framework to conduct a triangulation mixed-methods design. Data were collected from catfish perpetrators (n = 156) and targets (n = 826) via a web-based survey. Perpetration was positively associated with being a man, having a high education level, high religiosity, and negatively with being heterosexual and Hispanic/Latin American. Perpetration was predicted by impression management and narcissism and negatively by mate value and conscientiousness. Compared to face-to-face relationships, catfish unions were characterized by low levels of satisfaction and passionate love. The most common communication methods used in these relationships included text and instant messaging, and targets reported significantly greater self-disclosure than perpetrators. The top reasons for perpetrators’ identity selection included emulating an ideal self and enhancing mate value. Among perpetrators, a majority (55%) did not feel guilty about their identity misrepresentation but those who did primarily reported guilt resulting from the betrayal and keeping the relationship secret from other people. Clinical implications are provided for therapists working with clients who experience catfishing as a target and/or perpetrator.
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Bu çalışmada birçok disiplinde yüzyıllardır tartışılan fakat dijitalleşmeyle beraber köklü değişimlere uğrayan aşk ve eş seçimi kavramları iktisadi ve matematiksel literatür yardımıyla incelenirken geçmişten günümüze evrimleşen bu süreçlerin farklılıkları, iktisadi piyasalarla benzerlik gösterdiği noktalar ve ileride ortaya çıkabilecek fırsatlar ve tehlikeler tartışılmıştır. Becker’ın evlilik teorisi ve üzerine modellediği eş seçimi optimizasyon problemi olarak değerlendirildiğinde ortaya çıkabilecek olası mekanizmalar ve aksaklıklar incelenmiş, bu soruna matematiksel bir çözüm olan optimal durma yönteminin uygunluğuna ve dijitalleşme ile ortaya çıkan faktörlerin hangi noktalarda Becker’ın analiziyle benzerlikler ve farklılıklar gösterdiğine değinilmiştir. Bu tür ilişkilerin aslında iktisadi piyasalara benzer şekilde hareket ettiği ve benzer sorunlardan etkilenebileceği vurgulanmakla beraber, zaman zaman iktisadi modeller en temel değişkenleri açıklamakta yetersiz kalsa da bu düşünme biçimi bireylerin tercihlerinin yapısına ve önceliklerinin nasıl oluştuklarına dair bazı önemli çıkarımlar sunmaktadır. Teknolojik gelişmelerin ivme kazandığı ve alışkanlıkların da bu değişimlerden kaçınılmaz biçimde etkilendiği günümüzde bu çerçevede ele alınan bakış açısıyla çalışma Türkçe literatürde ilk olma özelliğine sahiptir.
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Nowadays, with the rapid development of information and communication technologies, smart phones, tablets, computers and the Internet, which are defined as digital media tools, have become indispensable and essential tools in our daily life practices. Children and young people have adapted themselves to this digitalization period more quickly than adults, and perform a high level of frequency of use. While digitalization offers children and young people a liberating way to expand their learning opportunities, access information, express themselves, and maintain social connections with family/friends, it also poses threats coming from the dangerous and dark side of the digital environment. The present study aims to examine the risks of digital applications for children and young people, what the cyber risks that result in bullying and victimization are, and the effects of exposure to these cyber risks on mental health. Raising the awareness of parents, educators and mental health professionals will contribute to develop and apply the protective and preventive mental health approaches for children and young people.
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Mobile dating applications have changed how romantic relationships are pursued. However, despite the popularity of these applications, users have expressed numerous privacy and security concerns that warrant further investigation. This study explored how users’ locus of control influences the actualisation of affordances to mitigate privacy and security concerns. Through a qualitative study based on 12 semi-structured interviews, seven propositions are formulated. The study contributes to MDA literature and affordance theory. The propositions articulate that users can actualise affordances from a network of tools to mitigate privacy and security concerns given their locus of control.KeywordsMobile dating applicationsAffordancesPrivacy concernsSecurity concernsLocus of control
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Facebook use is very popular among young people, but many open issues remain regarding the individual traits that are antecedents of different behaviours enacted online. This study aimed to investigate whether the relationship between self-esteem and the amount of time on Facebook could be mediated by a tendency towards social comparison. Moreover, three different modalities of Facebook use were distinguished, i.e., social interaction, simulation, and search for relations. Because of gender differences in technology use and social comparison, the mediation models were tested separately for males and females. Data were collected by means of a self-report questionnaire with a sample of 250 undergraduate and graduate Italian students (mean age: 22.18 years). The relations were examined empirically by means of four structural equation models. The results revealed the role of orientation to social comparison in mediating the relations between low self-esteem and some indicators of Facebook use, i.e., daily hours on Facebook and the use of Facebook for simulation. For females, the use of Facebook for social interaction was directly influenced by high self-esteem and indirectly influenced by low self-esteem. Globally, the dimension of social comparison on Facebook emerged as more important for females than for males.
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This study explores the relationships among an individual's attachment anxiety and avoidance, the ratio of technology mediated communication (TMC) in their relationship, and relationship quality for individuals who met their romantic partners online. Participants (N = 219) consisted of individuals between the ages of 18–25, who were US citizens, and met a romantic partner utilizing online dating, dating mobile web applications, social networking sites, online chatrooms, or any way of meeting through technology. A survey measuring relationship beliefs, relationship attitudes, and use of technology was distributed and completed via MTurk. Structural equation modeling revealed that anxious attachment was associated with a higher ratio of TMC, whereas avoidant attachment was not significantly related with the ratio of TMC. Higher ratios of TMC were associated with lower relationship quality. Implications for intervention are discussed.
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Research examining the development of online addictions has grown greatly over the last decade with many studies suggesting both risk factors and protective factors. In an attempt to integrate the theories of attachment and identity formation, the present study investigated the extent to which identity styles and attachment orientations account for three types of online addiction (i.e., internet addiction, online gaming addiction, and social media addiction). The sample comprised 712 Italian students (381 males and 331 females) recruited from schools and universities who completed an offline self-report questionnaire. The findings showed that addictions to the internet, online gaming, and social media were interrelated and were predicted by common underlying risk and protective factors. Among identity styles, ‘informational’ and ‘diffuse-avoidant’ styles were risk factors, whereas ‘normative’ style was a protective factor. Among attachment dimensions, the ‘secure’ attachment orientation negatively predicted the three online addictions, and a different pattern of causal relationships were observed between the styles underlying ‘anxious’ and ‘avoidant’ attachment orientations. Hierarchical multiple regressions demonstrated that identity styles explained between 21.2 and 30% of the variance in online addictions, whereas attachment styles incrementally explained between 9.2 and 14% of the variance in the scores on the three addiction scales. These findings highlight the important role played by identity formation in the development of online addictions.
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This essay centers on the concepts of catfishing and online impersonation. Utilizing the Manti Te’o catfishing hoax and the Texas Tech football coaching staff’s admittance of using fake profiles on social media to follow their players as a basis, this piece will examine past instances of athletes and catfishing and the connection between collegiate athletics and catfishing. Past legal incidents that focus specifically on catfishing, as well as specific laws that could have ramifications on catfishing and fake online personas will be discussed. Finally, the legal considerations that may have a potential effect on the various communication elements within social media platforms will be explored. Recommendations for future research will also be presented.
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This qualitative study (N = 20) examined the online and mobile dating app use of sexual minority males living in non-metropolitan areas. Many participants reported negative experiences while using dating sites or apps. Specifically, they discussed instances of deception or “catfishing,” discrimination, racism, harassment, and sexual coercion (often mentioned in the context of young, sexually inexperienced men). The results indicate that the use of dating apps could pose mental health risks due to such negative and traumatic experiences. Future research should explore the health and mental health impacts of dating app use in order to improve care and services for the sexual minority male population.
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Expectations for one’s romantic relationship, and the extent to which these expectations are actually met, are important predictors of relationship outcomes. Themes of romanticism (e.g., idealism, soul mates, love at first sight) emerge from our romantic socialization. But what happens when romantic relationships fall short of these ideals and expectations are unmet? The current study examined the association among unmet romantic expectations and relationship outcomes using an investment model framework. The sample comprised 296 U.S. young adults involved in dating relationships. Participants provided ratings of the romantic characteristics of their current, ideal, and potential alternative relationships. Unmet romantic expectations based on an ideal relationship were associated with lower relationship satisfaction, commitment, and investment. Unmet romantic expectations based on an alternative relationship were associated with lower relationship satisfaction, investment, and commitment and higher quality of alternatives. The results are discussed in terms of implications for researchers and clinicians/counselors.
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This study examined relationship satisfaction and adult attachment in a sample of 562 participants: 340 in a first marriage (60.5%); 122 separated/divorced from their first spouse (21.7%); and 100 in a second marriage (17.8%). For participants in a relationship (dating or married), findings indicated no differences between groups on relationship satisfaction; instead, attachment served as a better predictor of satisfaction. Further, no differences existed when comparing first- and second-married participants on attachment. Differences existed between separated/divorced participants and first- and second-married participants on most attachment indexes; similarities existed between separated/divorce and second-married participants on levels of preoccupation and model of self. When comparing non-dating and dating separated/divorced participants, dating participants reported higher secure attachment and models of others and lower fearful attachment. Clinical and research implications will be discussed. Contrary to most extant literature, attachment styles and behaviour may be a better predictor of relationship satisfaction than relationship type (e.g. first vs. second marriage) Consider the important role of attachment within relationships throughout adulthood and how attachment styles may differ in different types of relationships Attachment frameworks should be used when developing interventions for couples to increase relationship satisfaction and attachment security