Attachment-Security Prime Effect on Skin-Conductance Synchronization in Psychotherapists: An Empirical Study

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Physiological synchronization (PS) is a phenomenon of simultaneous activity between two persons’ physiological signals. It has been associated with empathy, shared affectivity, and efficacious therapeutic relationships. The aim of the present study was to explore the possible connections between PS and the attachment system, seeking preliminary evidence of this link by means of an experimental manipulation of the sense of attachment security in psychotherapists according to a protocol by Mikulincer and Shaver (2001), which has been proven to elicit empathetic behavior. We compared the synchronization of skin-conductance signals in brief psychological interviews between 18 psychodynamic therapists and 18 healthy volunteers. A sense of attachment-security priming was administered to half of the therapists, whereas the other half received a positive-affect control prime. Lag analysis was performed to investigate the “leading” or “following” attitudes of the participants in the two conditions. Mixed-model regressions and evidence-ratio model comparisons were used to investigate the effects of the manipulation on PS. Therapist attachment anxiety and avoidance traits were considered covariates. The attachment-security prime showed a significant effect on PS lag dynamics, but not on overall PS amount. Lag analysis showed that the therapists in the attachment-security condition were significantly more prone to assume a leading attitude in the physiological coupling than the therapists in the control condition. Therapist attachment anxiety and avoidance had no apparent effect. Our result paves the way for further exploration of the clinical relationship from a physiological standpoint.

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