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Unresolved Loss, a Risk Factor for Offspring, Predicts Event-Related Potential Responses to Death-Related Imagery

Bahm, Naomi I. Gribneau ; Simon-Thomas, Emiliana R. ; Main, Mary ; Hesse, Erik

Developmental Psychology, 2017, Vol.53(1), pp.191-199 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

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  • Title:
    Unresolved Loss, a Risk Factor for Offspring, Predicts Event-Related Potential Responses to Death-Related Imagery
  • Author/Creator: Bahm, Naomi I. Gribneau ; Simon-Thomas, Emiliana R. ; Main, Mary ; Hesse, Erik
  • Language: English
  • Subjects: Unresolved Loss ; Adult Attachment Interview (Aai) ; N2 ; P3 Asymmetry ; Disorganized Attachment
  • Is Part Of: Developmental Psychology, 2017, Vol.53(1), pp.191-199
  • Description: This study investigates whether individual differences in attachment status can be detected by electrophysiological responses to loss-themed pictures. The Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) was used to identify discourse/reasoning lapses during the discussion of loss experiences via death that place speakers in the Unresolved/disorganized AAI category. In parents, Unresolved AAI status has been associated with Disorganized infant Strange Situation response, a known risk factor for psychopathology (e.g., internalizing/externalizing/dissociation). This association has been related to anomalous frightening (FR) parental behavior in the infant’s presence, behavior presumed to be instigated by vulnerability to trauma-related fright. Here, psychophysiological methods were utilized to examine whether Unresolved AAI status could be detected in brain responses to subtle/symbolic reminders of loss. One year after AAI administration, 31 undergraduate women who had experienced loss (16 Unresolved) underwent continuous electroencephalogram (EEG) recording during a picture-viewing, valence-rating task. Picture onset-locked event-related potentials (ERPs) revealed millisecond responses to 4 picture categories: pleasant people, pleasant nature, cemetery (symbolic death), and gruesome death (dead or dying people). Participants’ valence ratings did not differ between groups across picture categories. However, the N2 ERP, implicated in detecting stimulus salience, was selectively greater in Unresolved participants viewing cemetery scenes; it was in fact as high as the N2 for gruesome death images observed throughout the sample. Additionally, Unresolved participants exhibited a right-hemispheric P3 asymmetry across picture categories, suggestive of continuously heightened vigilance/arousal. Together, these results suggest that Unresolved AAI status is associated with greater neurophysiological sensitivity to subtle reminders of loss that may disrupt ongoing mental function.
  • Identifier: ISSN: 0012-1649 ; E-ISSN: 1939-0599 ; DOI: 10.1037/dev0000255