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Title: Psychophysiological responses underlying unresolved loss and trauma in the Adult Attachment Interview
Author(s): L. Bakkum, M. Oosterman, M. L. Verhage, F. C. Kunseler, R. P. Fearon, C. Schuengel and R. Duschinsky
Journal: Development and Psychopathology
Year: 2020
Pages: 1-16
DOI: 10.1017/S0954579420001492
File URL: /vuams-pubs/div-class-title-psychophysiological-responses-underlying-unresolved-loss-and-trauma-in-the-adult-attachment-interview-div.pdf
Keywords: adult attachment, autonomic nervous system reactivity, loss, childhood abuse, trauma recall
Abstract: Unresolved loss/trauma in the context of the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) has been theorised to result from dissociative processing of fear-related memories and ideas. To examine the plausibility of this model, this study tested hypothesised associations between unresolved loss/trauma and indicators of autonomic nervous system (ANS) reactivity. First-time pregnant women (N = 235) participated in the AAI while heart rate (interbeat interval; IBI) and indicators of parasympathetic reactivity (respiratory sinus arrhythmia; RSA) and sympathetic reactivity (pre-ejection period; PEP, skin conductance level; SCL) were recorded. Using multilevel modelling, ANS reactivity was examined in relation to topic (loss/trauma versus other questions); discussion of actual loss/trauma; classification of unresolved/disorganised; and unresolved responses during the interview. Responses to loss/trauma questions and discussion of loss were associated with respectively larger and smaller IBIs. There was no moderation by unresolved/disorganised status. Unresolved responses about loss were associated with smaller IBIs. Participants classified as unresolved/disorganised showed decreasing PEP and blunted SCL throughout the whole interview. The findings suggest that unresolved speech about loss co-occurs with physiological arousal, although the inconclusive findings regarding parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system responses fail to clearly support the role of fear.

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