Dating Couples' Attachment Styles and Patterns Cortisol Reactivity

Dating Couples' Attachment Styles and Patterns Cortisol Reactivity

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Dating Couples’ Attachment Styles and Patterns of Cortisol Reactivity and Recovery in Response to a Relationship Conflict Sally I. Powers, Paula R. Pietromonaco, Meredith Gunlicks, and Aline Sayer University of Massachusetts at Amherst This study investigated theoretically predicted links between attachment style and a physiological indicator of stress, salivary cortisol levels, in 124 heterosexual dating couples. Cortisol was assessed at 7 points before and after an experimental conflict negotiation task, creating a trajectory of stress reactivity and recovery for each participant. Growth modeling of cortisol data tested hypotheses that (a) insecurely attached individuals show patterns of greater physiological stress reactions to interpersonal conflict than do securely attached individuals and (b) people with insecurely attached partners show patterns of greater stress in reaction to relationship conflict than those with securely attached partners. Hypothesis 1 was supported, but men and women differed in the type of insecure attachment that predicted stress trajectories. Hypothesis 2 was supported for men, but not for women. The discussion emphasizes the role of gender role norms and partner characteristics in understanding connections between adult attachment and patterns of cortisol responses to interpersonal stress. A fundamental assumption of attachment theory is that attach- ment figures serve the function of helping individuals regulate feelings of distress in the face of a threat (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1979, 1980; Sroufe & Waters, 1977). Bowlby’s original theory highlighted two ways in which the experience and regulation of affect are implicated in the infant–caregiver attachment bond. First, when infants experience distress in response to a threat, they seek proximity to their caregiver. Second, caregivers who are sensitive and responsive help infants regulate their feelings of distress, enabling them to experience an emotional sense of well- being or “felt security” (Sroufe & Waters, 1977). These ideas have been extended to adult romantic relationships, which embody many of the features of an attachment relationship (e.g., Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003). Like children, when adults become distressed in the face of a threat, they may turn to an attachment figure (e.g., their romantic partner) in an attempt to regain an emotional sense of felt security (Simpson & Rholes, 1994). Individual differences exist in the degree to which people ex- perience distress in response to a threat and in their ability to rely on a partner to help with the regulation of distress (Pietromonaco & Feldman Barrett, 2000; Pietromonaco, Feldman Barrett, & Pow- ers, in press). A number of studies (see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003; Pietromonaco & Feldman Barrett, 2000) have documented that individual differences in adults’ attachment styles predict self-reported patterns of distress and affect regulation strategies.
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Dating Couples' Attachment Styles and Patterns Cortisol Reactivity

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