Evolutionary Psychological Science

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 426–439 | Cite as

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

  • Kenneth N. LevyEmail author
  • Jessica K. Hlay
  • Benjamin N. Johnson
  • Courtney P. Witmer
Research Article


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.


Attachment Evolutionary behavior Fight-or-flight Sex differences Stress response 



We thank the participants for their generosity and contribution to the project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth N. Levy
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jessica K. Hlay
    • 2
  • Benjamin N. Johnson
    • 3
  • Courtney P. Witmer
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.The Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA

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