Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Yaroslavsky, Ilya

Subject Headings

Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology, Psychology

Abstract

This study examined whether parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity predicts depression risk through excessive reassurance seeking (ERS) which subsequently erodes social support and generates stress. Recent theories suggest that the PNS evolved to regulate social interaction and that the PNS is associated with depression and interpersonal deficits. Therefore, PNS deficits may be associated to ERS, given its interpersonal function. Participants (N= 65) completed measures of ERS, interpersonal stressors, social support quality, depression symptoms, and a protocol that measured indices of the PNS (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia; RSA) at rest and during a paced breathing task. Multiple mediator models were used to examine the mediation of PNS activity on depression via ERS, interpersonal stress, and social support quality. Results suggest that PNS activity predicts ERS behavior that, in turn, predicts depression symptoms via interpersonal stress. High PNS activity, a purported marker of adaptive functioning, was related to greater use of a maladaptive interpersonal response (ERS), which subsequently predicted greater social support at a trend level. Findings provide new evidence of PNS activity in relation to interpersonal behavior and depression, and suggest the need to consider psychophysiology as a context for understanding depression risk and interpersonal processes.

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