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Recent studies based on J. Bowlby's (1969/1982) attachment theory reveal that both dispositional and experimentally enhanced attachment security facilitate cognitive openness and empathy, strengthen self-transcendent values, and foster tolerance of out-group members. Moreover, dispositional attachment security is associated with volunteering to help others in everyday life and to unselfish motives for volunteering. The present article reports 5 experiments, replicated in 2 countries (Israel and the United States), testing the hypothesis that increases in security (accomplished through both implicit and explicit priming techniques) foster compassion and altruistic behavior. The hypothesized effects were consistently obtained, and various alternative explanations were explored and ruled out. Dispositional attachment-related anxiety and avoidance adversely influenced compassion, personal distress, and altruistic behavior in theoretically predictable ways. As expected, attachment security provides a foundation for care-oriented feelings and caregiving behaviors, whereas various forms of insecurity suppress or interfere with compassionate caregiving.
Theoretically, people who have the benefits of secure social attachments should find it easier to perceive and respond to other people's suffering, compared with those who have insecure attachments. This is because compassionate reactions are products of what has been called the caregiving behavioral system, the optimal functioning of which depends on its not being inhibited by attachment insecurity (the failure of the attachment behavioral system to attain its own goal, safety and security provided by a caring attachment figure). In a series of recent studies, we have found that compassionate feelings and values, as well as responsive, altruistic behaviors, are promoted by both dispositional and experimentally induced attachment security. These studies and the theoretical ideas that generated them provide guidelines for enhancing compassion and altruism in the real world.