Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice - Early View Articles, Pages ${blockparams.parentJournalIssue.pageRange}

Attachment‐specific speech patterns induce dysphoric mood changes in the listener as a function of individual differences in attachment characteristics and psychopathology

  • Author(s): Anna Linda Leutritz, Lejla Colic, Viola Borchardt, Xuemei Cheng, Bin Zhang, Sarah Lison, Jörg Frommer, Anna Buchheim, Bernhard Strauss, Peter Fonagy, Tobias Nolte, Martin Walter
  • Published 20 Nov 2019
  • DOI: 10.1111/papt.12258

Objectives Early childhood experiences influence cognitive‐emotional development, with insecure attachment predisposing to potential psychopathologies. We investigated whether narratives containing attachment‐specific speech patterns shape listeners’ emotional responses and social intentions. Design First, 149 healthy participants listened to three narratives characteristic for secure, insecure‐preoccupied, and insecure‐dismissing attachment. Following each narrative, the well‐being and interpersonal reactivity as a particular aspect of emotional reactivity of the listener were assessed. Likewise, psychopathological aspects of personality were evaluated. A follow‐up study compared 10 psychosomatic patients with a current depressive episode and/or personality disorder with distinct depressive symptoms and 10 age‐ and gender‐matched healthy controls. Methods Effects of narratives on listeners’ mental state were tested with repeated‐measures AN(C)OVA. Mediating effects in the listener (attachment characteristics in the context of personality traits) were explored. Narrative effects were compared between patients and controls. Results Listening to insecure attachment narratives reduced well‐being in controls. Nevertheless, tendency for social interaction was highest following the insecure‐preoccupied narrative. Importantly, listeners’ individual attachment characteristics mediated the relationship between well‐being/interpersonal reactivity following the insecure‐preoccupied narrative and levels of psychopathology. Furthermore, compared with healthy participants, patients showed higher emotional reactivity following exposure to the insecure‐preoccupied narrative, represented by lower well‐being and lower estimation of friendliness towards the narrator. Conclusions Exposure to attachment‐specific speech patterns can result in dysphoric mood changes. Specifically, the insecure‐preoccupied narrative influenced the listeners’ emotional state, which was further mediated by the individual attachment patterns and psychopathological personality characteristics. This deepens the understanding of interpersonal processes, especially in psychotherapeutic settings. Practitioner points In clinical populations, insecure‐preoccupied attachment has a high prevalence. In this study, listening to a narrative characteristic of insecure‐preoccupied speech patterns resulted in reduced well‐being in healthy listeners. Patients with depressive symptoms showed a higher emotional reactivity towards the insecure‐preoccupied narrative compared to healthy controls. While working on (childhood) traumata, for example, in group therapy or inpatient settings, therapists should raise awareness to possible mood changes through discourse‐conveyed attachment characteristics in listeners as a ‘side effect’.

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