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Attentional Bias of Individuals Experiencing Emotional Trauma after Break-up with Different Attachment Styles

Author: GuoZuo
Tutor: ChenXu
School: Southwestern University
Course: Developmental and Educational Psychology
Keywords: emotional trauma after break-up attachment styles attentional bias brainmechanism
CLC: B842.3
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2012
Downloads: 706
Quote: 2
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Abstract


In daily life, people were always exposed to emotional traumatic events in close relationships constantly, such as emotional trauma after break-up. Many questionnaire surveys found that emotional trauma after break-up was one of the most serious emotional traumatic events for college students. Information processing theory of emotional trauma assumed traumatic events caused individuals’attentional bias towards trauma-related information or cues and made victims allocate more attentional resources to trauma-related information. The maintenance of emotional trauma could be partly explained as the result of attentional bias to trauma-related information (Brewin&Holmes,2003; Ehlers&Clark,2000; Foa, Huppert,&Cahill,2006). Ellis’ABC theory also believed that human being’s emotional and behavioral disorders were caused by victims’cognitive bias. Emotional trauma after break-up was a kind of traumatic event that people would always encounter. Although it didn’t like those major traumatic events which were rare and happened only in a small number of people, there were very few studies referred to the relationship between emotional trauma after break-up and attentional bias. For this reason, we planned to examine the attentional bias and its mechanisms of subjects experiencing emotional trauma after break-up in order to expand and deepen emotional trauma theory.At the same time, we found that not all subjects experiencing emotional trauma after break-up would be frustrated, which differed greatly between individuals. According to attachment theory and existing research, in adult attachment relationship, individual attachment styles played a role of regulating emotion and adjusting cognition. The research of Elwood and Williams had testified in2007that emotional traumatic events and insecure secondary attachment strategies were both related with cognitive bias after traumatic events. Facing emotional traumatic events, subjects of different attachment styles showed the usage of different attachment strategies which included secure-based strategies and insecure secondary attachment strategies. Some research findings of examining the relationship between attachment styles and attentional bias didn’t support the hypothesis of attachment theory’s secondary attachment strategies, therefore, we need more extensive experimental researches to further validate it. We were to explore the attentional bias and its mechanisms of subjects with different attachment styles experiencing and not experiencing painful break-up with the purpose of examining controversies of existing findings, further validating attachment strategies’ hypothesis and deepening attachment theory research.Prior researches mainly focused on major traumatic events, such as sexual abused, raped, warfare and natural calamities’negative influences on human being’s psychology. However, there were very few researches referred to those common emotional traumatic events such as brokenheartedness after break-up which almost everyone would encounter in their lives, which made the restriction of emotional trauma theory’s application. Most of these researches belonged to descriptive studies, the methods of questionnaire survey, scale assessment and interview were mainly used. Researchers obtained some valuable findings and had controversies on some questions, such as whether secure attachment had the protective effect on posttraumatic stress or not, whether avoidant attachment was benefit or detrimental for posttraumatic stress, etc. At present, attachment researchers held to their own statements according to different research findings on these questions. We planned to use social cognitive experimental methods to supplement and testify existing research findings. Till now, there had no experimental study to explore the neural basis of attentional bias of subjects with different attachment styles experiencing emotional traumatic event. We tried to explore the brain mechanism of attentional bias of subjects with different attachment styles experiencing emotional trauma after break-up for further validating the hypothesis of attachment strategies, deepening the research of attachment theory, formation mechanism of attentional bias and emotional trauma theory.Based on the questions above, we used the tasks of dot-probe, cue-target to examine the attentional bias and its mechanisms of subjects with different attachment styles experiencing and not experiencing painful break-up, on this basis, we also attempted to explore this attentional bias’brain mechanism. More specifically, firstly, we examined the influence of emotional trauma after break-up on the attentional bias to related adult attachment representations and its mechanisms; secondly, we further tried to explore the differences of attentional bias and its mechanisms of subjects with different attachment styles experiencing and not experiencing emotional trauma after break-up; thirdly, we used event related potentials (ERPs) experiment to probe into the brain mechanism of the influence of emotional trauma after break-up and subjects’ attachment styles on attentional bias towards adult attachment representations deeply. This dissertation mainly included five studies. Study1used dot-probe task to investigate whether emotional trauma after break-up would influence victims’ attentional bias initially. Study2used cue-target task to further explore the mechanism of victims’attentional bias. Study3tried to examine the influence of emotional trauma after break-up and subjects’attachment styles on subjects’attentional bias. Study4further explored the mechanism of the attentional bias of subjects with different attachment styles experiencing and not experiencing painful break-up. Study5tried to explore the brain mechanism of the influence of emotional trauma after break-up and subjects’attachment styles on their attentional bias.In general, these studies concluded that:(1) Emotional trauma after break-up and attachment styles affected subjects’ attentional bias commonly, which influenced subjects’attentional orienting or attentional maintenance to related adult attachment representations.(2)Subjects with secure attachment were not easily affected by emotional trauma, as secure attachment had the protective effect on posttraumatic stress. In addition to subjects with avoidant attachment, subjects with anxious attachment and dismissive-avoidant attachment were easily affected by emotional trauma.(3) On the level of conscious cognitive processing, the activity of cognitive processing and brain electrical physiology of subjects experiencing emotional trauma after break-up with insecure attachment had remarkably increased, showing attentional bias to adult attachment representations as pictures of describing lovers’sweet relationship and broken relationship. However, on the level of unconscious cognitive processing, these subjects performed a tendency of avoidance to adult attachment representations. Specifically, from the results of behavioral experiments, the attentional bias of subjects of experiencing emotional trauma after break-up with dismissive-avoidant attachment and anxious attachment was essentially attentional orienting. However, from the results of ERPs experiment, compared with subjects with secure attachment, subjects of experiencing emotional trauma after break-up with insecure attachment were defective at the stage of perceptual processing attachment representations, they decreased automatic attention to this kind of information unconsciously. Yet, at the stage of controlled processing, subjects of experiencing emotional trauma after break-up with insecure attachment obviously allocated more attentional resources to related adult attachment representations. The results of behavioral experiments also found that the attentional bias of subjects of experiencing emotional trauma after break-up with anxious and dismissive-avoidant attachment was significantly stronger than subjects of not experiencing painful break-up with anxious and dismissive-avoidant attachment.(4) From the results of behavioral experiments, subjects of experiencing emotional trauma after break-up showed attentional bias towards related adult attachment representations. The nature of this attentional bias was orienting. However, from the results of event related potentials experiment, on the early components of ERPs reflecting the stage of perceptual processing, the main effect of pictures of related adult attachment representations was significant, which illustrated that adult attachment representations probably had the important significance in biological evolution, and then proved that Bowlby(1982)’s hypothesis of the running of adult’s attachment system were unconscious was right.(5) At the stage of controlled processing, subjects with insecure attachment expressed insufficient allocation of attention resources towards secure attachment representations; at the stage of perceptual processing, subjects with insecure attachment were defective on the perceptual processing of secure attachment representations. These findings testified that subjects with insecure attachment’s cognitive processing deviations towards secure attachment representations had their own neural basis, which also further verified the hypothesis of attachment theory’s secondary attachment strategies.

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