Security-Priming in Trauma-Exposed Individuals: an fMRI study
Iles, Andrew Thomas
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Research shows a strong association between attentional bias to threat and emotional regulation difficulties, specifically heightened activation of neural areas known to be involved in emotional processing (amygdala) in individuals who report post-traumatic stress symptoms. Theoretical and research evidence suggests that the enhancing of felt attachment security through security-priming may grant an individual access to effective emotion regulation strategies, which in turn may reduce attentional bias and associated abnormal neural activations. Trauma-survivors with elevated anxiety levels were randomised into an experimental group (secure attachment priming, n=16) where they were primed using positive attachment-related pictures, or a neutral control priming condition (n=18) where they viewed non attachment pictures of people. Participants then completed a dot-probe task to measure attentional bias to threat, and an emotionally threatening face-matching task to probe amygdala activation. No between groups differences were found on measures of attentional bias. Contrary to the hypothesis, participants in the security-priming group showed significantly greater amygdala activation in response to threatening faces. Attachment style was not found to moderate the impact of security-priming on attentional bias or neural activation. Interpersonal trauma experiences make up the majority of the study sample. The impact of this is considered in the context of short-term single exposure to explicit attachment based security-priming interventions and the study paradigm employed to measure amygdala activation, which may act to initially dysregulate and contraindicate activation of a secure attachment representation, respectively.
Doctor of Clinical Psychology