Brain and Mind Institute
Social relationships are tightly linked to health and well-being. Recent work suggests that social relationships can even serve vital emotion regulation functions by minimizing threat-related neural activity. But relationship distress remains a significant public health problem in North America and elsewhere. A promising approach to helping couples both resolve relationship distress and nurture effective interpersonal functioning is Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT), a manualized, empirically supported therapy that is strongly focused on repairing adult attachment bonds. We sought to examine a neural index of social emotion regulation as a potential mediator of the effects of EFT. Specifically, we examined the effectiveness of EFT for modifying the social regulation of neural threat responding using an fMRI-based handholding procedure. Results suggest that EFT altered the brain's representation of threat cues in the presence of a romantic partner. EFT-related changes during stranger handholding were also observed, but stranger effects were dependent upon self-reported relationship quality. EFT also appeared to increase threat-related brain activity in regions associated with self-regulation during the no-handholding condition. These findings provide a critical window into the regulatory mechanisms of close relationships in general and EFT in particular.
Johnson, S. M.,
Moser, M. B.,
Greenman, P. S.,
Coan, J. A.
(2013). Soothing the Threatened Brain: Leveraging Contact Comfort with Emotionally Focused Therapy. PLoS ONE, 8(11), 1-10.
Available at: https://ecommons.aku.edu/bmi/57
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