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Int J Psychophysiol. 2013 Jun;88(3):253-60. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2012.04.004. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

Heart rate variability moderates the association between attachment avoidance and self-concept reorganization following marital separation.

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The University of Arizona, Department of Psychology, USA.


Despite substantial evidence indicating that relationships shape people's self-concept, relatively little is known about how people reorganize their sense of self when relationships end and whether this varies as a function of people's beliefs about relationships. In this report, we examine the prospective association between self-report adult attachment style and self-concept recovery among 89 adults following a recent marital separation. People high in attachment avoidance are characterized by the tendency to deactivate (i.e., suppress) painful attachment-related thoughts and feelings, and, following Fagundes, Diamond, and Allen (2012), we hypothesized that highly avoidant people would show better or worse self-concept outcomes depending on their ability to successfully regulate their emotional experience during a divorce-related mental recall task. We operationalized self-regulation using respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and found that highly avoidant people who showed RSA increases across our divorce-related mental activation task (DMAT) evidenced improvements in their self-concept over three months. In contrast, highly avoidant adults who showed RSA decreases during the DMAT showed no improvement (or a worsening) in their self-concept disruptions over the subsequent three months. These results suggest that RSA, an index of heart rate variability, may provide a window into self-regulation that has the potential to shed new light on why some people cope well or poorly following the loss of a relationship. Discussion centers on the potential mechanisms of action that explain why some people are able to successfully deactivate attachment-related thoughts and feelings whereas other people are not.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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