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Attach Hum Dev. 2013;15(3):303-15. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2013.782656. Epub 2013 Apr 2.

Mutuality and the social regulation of neural threat responding.

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University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA.


Recent studies have shown that the presence of a caring relational partner can attenuate neural responses to threat. Here we report reanalyzed data from Coan, Schaefer, and Davidson ( 2006 ), investigating the role of relational mutuality in the neural response to threat. Mutuality reflects the degree to which couple members show mutual interest in the sharing of internal feelings, thoughts, aspirations, and joys - a vital form of responsiveness in attachment relationships. We predicted that wives who were high (versus low) in perceived mutuality, and who attended the study session with their husbands, would show reduced neural threat reactivity in response to mild electric shocks. We also explored whether this effect would depend on physical contact (hand-holding). As predicted, we observed that higher mutuality scores corresponded with decreased neural threat responding in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and supplementary motor cortex. These effects were independent of hand-holding condition. These findings suggest that higher perceived mutuality corresponds with decreased self-regulatory effort and attenuated preparatory motor activity in response to threat cues, even in the absence of direct physical contact with social resources.

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