Dr. Robert G.
Can the way in which we relate to others seriously affect our
health? Can understanding those attachments help health care providers
treat us better? Dr. Robert Maunder, in collaboration with Dr. Jonathan
Hunter, studies how interpersonal interactions influence health,
through the lens of attachment theory.
Drs. Maunder and Hunter first published a model describing the paths
by which insecurity in close relationships contributes to disease and
illness in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2001. These paths include the
influence of relationships on stress physiology and immune regulation;
on behaviours that increase health risk, like smoking and unhealthy
eating; on the ability to benefit from others’ support, and on
interactions between patients and health care providers.
Their subsequent research has tested the predictions of this model.
For example, with respect to patient-provider interactions, this work
has demonstrated that attachment insecurity markedly increases the
likelihood of difficult, dissatisfying interactions in high-stakes
medical interactions, such as visits to the emergency department.
A new research instrument has been developed allowing research which
supports the idea that under some circumstances patients “become
attached” to their health care providers such that the quality of
medical interactions may be driven as much by a patient’s need to feel
more secure, as by efforts to investigate diagnose and treat
With respect to physiology, this research has demonstrated that
certain patterns of interpersonal attachment are associated with lower
activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (our body’s “brake” on
fight-or-flight reactions to threats).
In 2015, Drs. Maunder and Hunter integrated the growing literature
in this area from the fields of neuroscience, stress physiology, social
psychology, and evolutionary biology into a book to introduce these
ideas and their implications to health care providers: Love, Fear and
Health: How Our Attachments to Others Shape Health and Health Care
(University of Toronto Press).
Dr. Maunder received an MD from the University of Toronto in 1984.
He is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of
Toronto and the Head of Research in the Department of Psychiatry at
Mount Sinai Hospital.