Background: The fine-tuning of the endogenous stress response system, which includes the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), is influenced by early attachment relationships. A higher prevalence of insecure attachment has been detected in people with eating disorders (EDs). Thus, we investigated the emotional and the SNS reactivity to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in women with EDs in relation to their attachment profiles. Methods: Fifty women with EDs and 20 healthy women participated into an experimental study. Attachment was evaluated by Experience in Close Relationship questionnaire. Salivary α-amylase (sAA) levels were measured to assess the SNS reactivity to TSST while the emotional response was measured by the STAI state scale. Results: Compared to women with EDs and low attachment anxiety and healthy controls, women with EDs and high attachment anxiety showed lower TSST-induced sAA production without difference in anxiety scores. Women with EDs and high attachment avoidance showed similar sAA response to TSST but higher levels of anxiety scores compared to those with low attachment avoidance and healthy controls. Conclusions: Our findings corroborate the idea that adult attachment may be associated with variability in emotional and biological responses to a psychosocial stressor in women with EDs.
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