Interpersonal Emotion Dynamics in Couples with Somatic Symptom Disorder: Dyadic Coherence in Facial Temperature during Emotional Interactions

Zeynep Emine Okur Güney, Daniela Cardone, Heribert Sattel, Sigert Ariens, Michael Witthöft, Arcangelo Merla, Peter Kuppens, Peter Henningsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective Disturbances in emotional processes are commonly reported in patients with a somatic symptom disorder (SSD). Although emotions usually occur in social interactions, little is known about interpersonal emotion dynamics of SSD patients during their actual emotional encounters. This study examined physiological coherence (linkage) between SSD patients and their partners, and in healthy couples during their emotional interactions. Secondarily, we explored group-level relationships between participants' and their partners' subjective affect. Methods Twenty-nine romantic couples (16 healthy and 13 SSD patient-couples) underwent a dyadic conversation task with neutral and anger-eliciting topics followed by a guided relaxation. Partners' cutaneous facial temperature was recorded simultaneously by functional infrared thermal imaging. Immediately after each condition, participants reported on their pain intensity, self-affect, and perceived partner-affect. Results Emotional conditions and having a partner with an SSD significantly affected coherence amplitude on the forehead (F(2,54) = 4.95, p =.011) and nose tip temperature (F(2,54) = 3.75, p =.030). From baseline to anger condition, coherence amplitude significantly increased in the patient-couples, whereas it decreased in the healthy couples. Correlation changes between partners' subjective affect comparably accompanied the changes in physiological coherence in healthy and patient-couples. Conclusions Inability to reduce emotional interdependence in sympathetic activity and subjective affect during a mutual conflict observed in SSD patient-couples seems to capture emotion co-dysregulation. Interventions should frame patients' emotional experiences as embodied and social. Functional infrared thermal imaging confirms to be an ecological and reliable method for examining autonomic changes in interpersonal contexts. Registration Page:

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-198
Number of pages11
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • couples
  • functional infrared thermal imaging
  • interpersonal emotion dynamics
  • physiological linkage
  • somatic symptom disorder
  • wavelet coherence analysis


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