The problem: Identification with a place and attachment to it is rarely taken into account in Russian psychological research.
The solution: Attachment to home is an important factor in psychological well-being and tools are, therefore, needed to help study it.
A group of HSE University researchers (Sofya Nartova-Bochaver, Sofya Reznichenko, Milana Hachaturova and Victoria Erofeeva) and their international colleagues validated the Short Home Attachment Scale (SHAS), a useful tool in cross-cultural research. The SHAS makes it possible to study the level of home attachment in different countries and its influence on individuals’ well-being.
The study drew on an international sample of 1,307 students aged 17-26 from Armenia, India, Indonesia, Ukraine and Russia. As the researchers note, it is very important to measure home attachment in the context of a change in lifestyle. This is especially true of young people and college students who are the most mobile group, leaving their parental home and settling somewhere new. The results of the work were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Home attachment is one of the foundations of human existence. It is a special place where many of life’s major events take place. It is impossible to overestimate the role of the home in a person’s life, starting right from birth and early childhood, says Sofya Nartova-Bochaver. ‘With a large number of works devoted to a person’s interaction with a place in general, unjustifiably little study has been made of the specific connection to home’, the researcher comments.
According to the scientific definition, attachment to a place is a ‘system of meanings, beliefs, symbols, values and feelings’ that a person or group of people associates with a particular place.
Such a place—a country, area or, for example, a park or house—could be real or recreated in a person’s memory. It is not just a geographic location, but is permeated with individual meanings stemming exclusively from experiences lived there.
Sofya Nartova-Bochaver and Sofya Reznichenko, together with Valeria Kuznetsova, a colleague from Novosibirsk (FSBI Research Institute of Physiology and Fundamental Medicine, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences), first described the Home Attachment Scale (HAS) they created in 2016.
The structure of home attachment includes both functional and emotional-meaningful attachments. The former includes the person’s goals and needs. It also indicates the opportunities the home provides for him such as raising children at home, spending leisure time, relaxing, working from home or pursuing hobbies. The various opportunities associated with the home provide a sense of comfort, convenience, and stability. Functional attachment is closely related to a person’s behaviour and lifestyle. The presence or absence of certain conditions affects habits, rituals, and lifestyle.
Emotional-meaningful attachment includes feelings, memories, associations and experiences associated with the image of the home. This satisfies the need for an existential order, including the preservation of family history, social interactions, self-presentation and personalisation. At the same time, these very different forms of attachment to the home are only conditionally independent phenomena. In fact, they do not have clear boundaries and are closely related to each other.
In general, the phenomenon of home attachment is described as a positive attitude, the sense that ‘the home, with all its object, spatial, social, and psychological features is seen as close and dear, as maintaining integrity and authenticity, as comfortable and functional, and as the goal of return and support’. Here, too, there is ‘a complex set of positive feelings and experiences in relation to the home as a personally significant place (in symbolic, functional, and emotional terms), influencing behaviour and values, guiding life, and supporting a person’s psychological well-being’, the researchers note.
However, apart from the HAS published in 2016, there are still few methods to measure the quality of the home environment or home attachment. ‘Most of these tools are modifications of questionnaires on attachment to place, in the broad sense of the word. They focus on specific places such as a park or neighbourhood, or the meanings attached to a place’, the researchers write. At the same time, existing questionnaires are not standardised, are difficult to analyse, or are devoted only to places associated with childhood and do not really measure the level of home attachment.
The authors of the study note that home attachment is a cultural phenomenon. For example, in her book The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes, Judith Flanders distinguishes between ‘domestic’ and ‘non-domestic’ cultures. She refers primarily to the northwestern countries of England, Germany, and the Netherlands as the ‘domestic’ European cultures, and primarily to Spain, Italy, and France as ‘non-domestic’ European cultures. Another work looks at two dimensions that determine the different perceptions of home—identity/community and open/closed attitudes.
The researches also suggest that attitudes to the home could depend on the difference in family values and traditions. Thus, it is all the more important to have tools for measuring the level of home attachment that would reflect the true nature of this phenomenon and be stable across cultures.
The study’s final sample included 1,307 university students aged 17–26 years. Of those, 78% were women and 22% were men; 322 were from Armenia; 270 from India; 177 from Indonesia; 260 from Ukraine; and another 278 were from Russia.
The researchers note that the phenomenon of home attachment is important to study in relation to long-term, ongoing changes in people’s lifestyles. This is especially true of intellectual youth and students who leave home and must live far away from home and family in new and temporary housing—dormitories or rented apartments.
All respondents studied on university campuses located an average of 439 km from home. Most lived in hostels or with relatives. Approximately 15% more rented housing.
The data was collected in 2019-2020. The study employed statistical analysis of data processing methods.
In accordance with the results of the previous HAS validation based on a Russian sample, the cross-cultural study confirmed the univariate structure of the scale. In addition, the researchers obtained data that improves the Russian instrument for measuring the level of home attachment.
In revising the questionnaire, researchers identified several most heavily-weighted factors. They were included in the abbreviated version of the scale (SHAS) and reflect the three most commonly identified manifestations of strong home attachment:
Emotional manifestations—emotions and feelings.
The results obtained show that the scale can be used in Russia, Ukraine, India, and Armenia. However, in the case of Indonesia, a more thorough study is needed of the country’s population data and how the factors are structured.
The researchers also concluded that home attachment is linked to culture. Countries such as India and Armenia that have a strong collectivist orientation and place high value on the family have the highest rates of home attachment, while countries with a moderately collectivist orientation, such as Russia and Ukraine, have lower rates.
The resulting home attachment scale is an important cross-cultural tool. Prior to the validation of SHAS, researchers had no proven methods at their disposal with the exception of one made for the slightly different goal of studying the characteristics of the home environment.
The researchers note that the home has taken on additional roles during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving added significance and importance to the study of home attachment. On the one hand, people find themselves confined to the space of their homes for long stretches during lockdowns, and on the other hand, remote work has turned houses and apartments into offices for many people.
The new scale not only shows how satisfied a person is with their home but also helps to obtain an indirect indicator of their psychological well-being.
The scale can now be used in a variety of cross-cultural studies of homelessness, homesickness, adaptation to a new place of residence, as well as in such applied research as, for example, motivation for mobility and tourism. ‘Unfortunately, the subject has become even more relevant in the context of current geopolitical events, when many people have been deprived of their homes. Establishing attachment to a new home and overcoming homesickness are just some of the applied tasks with which the new tool can help,’ concludes Sofya Nartova-Bochaver.
Vasily Bardadimov, Scholae Mundi Charity Foundation
Narine Khachaturyan, Faculty of Philosophy and Psychology, Yerevan State University
Irina Kryazh, Department of Applied Psychology, National University of Kharkiv.
Shanmukh Kamble, Karnatak University, India
Zulkarnain Zulkarnain, University of Sumatera Utara, Indonesia