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Physiological signs of stress during conflict: The role of attachment style, sexual passion, and love

Michael L Vernon, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to investigate how attachment style, sexual passion, and love directly and jointly affect the how the HPA-axis responds to relationship conflict. Cortisol measurements were gathered from 198 dating couples while they discussed a relationship issue that has recently been the source of heated debate. Sexual passion was associated with higher levels of cortisol during the conflict for men but not women. In contrast, being in love and being loved more by a partner were linked to lower levels of cortisol during the moment of conflict for both men and women. The hypothesis that cortisol levels during conflict further depend on the interaction between sexual passion, love and a person's attachment style received some support. Females high in sexual passion and attachment anxiety experienced a faster increase in cortisol in anticipation of conflict, and females high in love and avoidance displayed a slower increase in cortisol during conflict. The discussion also focuses on the role that cortisol appears to play in conflict related attachment processes.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Vernon, Michael L, "Physiological signs of stress during conflict: The role of attachment style, sexual passion, and love" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3315497.