February 8, 2018 at 10:56 am

Peters Authors Article on Partners’ Attachment Insecurity as Predictor of Physiological Threat

Dr. Brett Peters, portrait

Dr. Brett Peters

Dr. Brett Peters was the lead author on a study of “Partners’ attachment insecurity predicts greater physiological threat in anticipation of attachment-relevant interactions” published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Peters is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ohio University.

Abstract: This study examined whether anticipating interacting with a partner higher in attachment insecurity predicted greater physiological threat in an emotion regulation context. Eighty-eight couples watched an emotionally negative film clip, prepared to discuss the video with their partner, and then engaged in a conversation. One dyad member (regulator) was randomly assigned to express versus suppress affective displays while his/her partner (target) was given no additional instructions. Greater partner avoidance was associated with stronger physiological responses consistent with the experience of threat—sympathetic arousal coupled with increased vascular resistance—when regulators anticipated suppressing versus expressing affective displays. Greater partner anxiety was associated with greater physiological threat responses regardless of the emotion regulation context. Threat responses also manifested during the conversation: Regulators and targets with highly avoidant partners exhibited greater threat responses when suppressing versus expressing affective displays. Additionally, more insecure partners found the conversation more difficult. These data are the first to show that anticipating attachment-relevant interactions with more insecure partners elicit cardiovascular responses diagnostic of threat.

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