PloS one

The impact of attachment distress on affect-centered mentalization: An experimental study in psychosomatic patients and healthy adults.

PMID 29672540


We investigated the impact of attachment distress on affect-centered mentalization in a clinical and a non-clinical sample, comparing mentalization in a baseline condition to mentalization under a condition of attachment distress. The sample consisted of 127 adults who underwent inpatient psychosomatic treatment, and 34 mentally healthy adults. Affect-centered mentalization was assessed by analyzing participants' narratives on interpersonal situations in a baseline condition with the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS), and an experimental condition inducing attachment distress with the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (AAP). Unlike the LEAS, the AAP is specifically designed to trigger attachment distress. In both conditions, the narratives were evaluated using the LEAS scoring system. Additionally, we assessed the impact of childhood trauma on affect-centered mentalization with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). While the non-clinical sample displayed the same level of affect-centered mentalization in both conditions, the majority of the clinical sample reached higher scores in the attachment distress condition. There was no strong relationship between reported trauma and mentalization scores. Our findings lend strong empirical support to the assumption that affect-centered mentalization is modulated by attachment-related distress. Several possible explanations for the differences between and within the clinical and the non-clinical sample are discussed.