Psychophysiology in Attachment Interviews: Converging Evidence for Deactivating Strategies


  • Preparation of this manuscript was supported by an NIMH FIRST Award (MH44691) to the first author. Portions of these results were presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development held in Kansas City, April 1989, and in Seattle, April 1991. We are especially grateful to Lori Bast Thompson for coordinating research activities. Also, we thank Jenine Meston and Neisha Nelson for coding interviews, and Robert Pianta and Carol George for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

concerning this article should be addressed to Mary Dozier, Department of Psychology, Trinity University, San Antonio, TX 78212.


By asking the subject to consider a host of potentially threatening attachment-related issues, the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) allows an assessment of different strategies for regulating the attachment system. These strategies can be assessed along the 2 dimensions of security/anxiety and deactivation/hyperactivation. The greatest inferential leaps may be in characterizing strategies as deactivating. For example, individuals using deactivating strategies often report extremely positive relationships with parents, display restricted recall of attachment memories, and play down the significance of early attachment experiences. If these descriptive features are guided by a strategy that requires diverting attention from attachment information, subjects employing this strategy should experience conflict or inhibition during the Attachment Interview. In the present study, skin conductance levels were monitored for 50 college students during a baseline period and throughout the Attachment Interview. Subjects employing deactivating strategies showed marked increases in skin conductance levels from baseline to questions asking them to recall experiences of separation, rejection, and threat from parents. This finding supports the notion that individuals employing deactivating attachment strategies experience conflict or inhibition during the Attachment Interview.