Attachment style moderates partner presence effects on pain : A laser-evoked potentials study
Williams, Steve C. R.
Social support is crucial for psychological and physical well-being. Yet, in experimental and clinical pain research, the presence of others has been found to both attenuate and intensify pain. To investigate the factors underlying these mixed effects, we administered noxious laser stimuli to 39 healthy women while their romantic partner was present or absent, and measured pain ratings and laser-evoked potentials to assess the effects of partner presence on subjective pain experience and underlying neural processes. Further, we examined whether individual differences in adult attachment style, alone or in interaction with the partner's level of attentional focus (manipulated to be either on or away from the participant) might modulate these effects. We found that the effects of partner presence versus absence on pain-related measures depended on adult attachment style but not partner attentional focus. The higher participants' attachment avoidance, the higher pain ratings and N2 and P2 local peak amplitudes were in the presence compared to the absence of the romantic partner. As laser-evoked potentials are thought to reflect activity relating to the salience of events, our data suggest that partner presence may influence the perceived salience of events threatening the body, particularly in individuals who tend to mistrust others.