Regulating Emotion in the Higher Education Classroom: Seeking Proximity to a Divine Attachment Figure

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This abstract is located on pg. 270 of the linked conference proceedings.


Anxiety has been reported as an increasing mental health issue for students in the higher education classroom (Bonfiglio, 2015). Existing research suggests that seeking proximity to an attachment figure may regulate anxiety (Cassidy, 2015). When attachment figures may be unavailable, representations of the attachment figures can serve the regulatory function. A Divine Attachment Figure (DAF; Counted, 2016), for example God, is often portrayed (from the Judeo-Christian worldview) as always being available. Kiesling (2011) examined the divine attachment hypotheses in God attachment literature. Kirkpatrick and Granqvist (2014) assert two pathways to attachment to God. The correlational hypothesis acknowledges the role of social learning in attachment, and if a child grows up with a sensitive caregiver researchers have found this internal working model may be transferred onto God (Kirkpatrick, 1999: Granqvist, 2005). On the other hand, the compensation hypothesis indicates that some may attach to God in a different manner and experience a relationship with God that could help compensate for a painful experience from childhood, in other words relationship with God could help strengthen coping. This is consistent with what Bob Marvin discusses in his educational videos and work from the circle of security which indicates that one’s attachment style is not determined by past experience, but it can adapt and change. This research explores interventions designed to explore how strengthening relationship with God may influence attachment security. This study furthers existing research to examine the efficacy of a workshop designed to facilitate proximity seeking to a DAF in a Judeo-Christian population of graduate students at a central VA University. A second purpose is to examine the relationship between anxiety, mindfulness, and God-attachment in the same population and present possible implications for higher education. To accomplish these goals, the God attachment of a university population was assessed before and after a God attachment workshop using contemplative prayer and mindfulness-based interventions designed to reduce anxiety in university students and build healthy attachment-based relationships with their professors (Garzon, Hall & Ripley, 2014). Attachment to a divine figure will be assessed pre and post using the God Attachment Inventory (Beck and McDonald, 2004) and the Beck Anxiety Inventory (Beck and Steer, 1993). Statistical analysis will be conducted in the form of paired samples ttests using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Results are discussed in light of future implications for higher education, and resources are provided for anxiety-reducing exercises that can be used in a workshop format or the classroom.