Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Integr Physiol Behav Sci. 1993 Oct-Dec;28(4):369-87; discussion 368.

Psychological and physiological responses to stress: the right hemisphere and the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, an inquiry into problems of human bonding.


In addition to repeated reexperiencing of the event, the delayed effects of severe psychological trauma, i.e., post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), present a paradoxical mix of symptoms. There is enhancement of the self-preservative catecholamine states; anger and fear with a contrasting sense of meaninglessness and a blunting of the emotional responses of the attachment behavior so critical for species preservation. Hormonally, there is a striking separation of the catecholamine response, which stays elevated and that of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which may remain at normal levels. Pathophysiologically, the reexperiencing of the trauma and the arousal may be associated with dysfunction of the locus coeruleus, amygdala and hippocampal systems. This article explores the consequences of an additional dysfunction: a dissociation of the hemispheres that appears to be responsible for the alexithymic avoidance and failure of the cortisol response that so often follow severe psychological trauma. There is neurophysiological evidence that the left and right hemispheres subserve different emotional sets that correspond to "control" and "appraisal," i.e., very approximately to the self and species preservative behavioral complexes, respectively. Several studies point to physiological dissociation of hemispheric functions during alexithymia. This raises the question: What has been lost if in this condition the right side no longer fully contributes to integrated cerebral function? Right hemispheric damaged children lose critical social skills and in adults the related sense of familiarity critical for bonding is lost. Such losses of social sensibilities may account for the lack of empathy and difficulties with bonding found in sociopathy and borderline personality: conditions now believed to result from repeated psychological trauma during development. On the other hand, systems that promote right hemispheric contributions provide solacing access to a "Higher Power." They also appear to protect against socially disordered behavior, substance abuse, the failure of the HPA axis and some aspects of the pathophysiology of chronic disease.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Loading ...
    Support Center