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Physiological evidence for repressive coping among avoidantly attached adults

by L. M. Diamond
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships ()

Abstract

Research suggests that the quality of childhood attachments to caregivers influences the development of capacities and strategies for emotion regulation. Avoidantly attached individuals are characterized by emotion-regulation strategies involving the suppression of negative thoughts and feelings. Psychophysiological research on repressive coping suggests that these strategies might be associated with patterns of heightened and escalating sympathetic nervous system reactivity in the absence of correspondingly heightened selfreported affect. The present study tested this hypothesis by subjecting 148 adults to psychological stressors and discussions of attachment-related issues while monitoring their skin conductance level (SCL). Attachment avoidance – but not anxiety – was associated with heightened SCL reactivity to all tasks, especially among women, as well as escalation in reactivity. Additionally, on one stressor avoidance was associated with greater disassociation between subjective and physiological responses. These results have implications for understanding the influence of attachment style on cognitive and physiological aspects of emotion regulation.

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