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Dr. Robert G. Maunder


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 disease.

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.

At a Glance

Head of Research, Psychiatry, Mount Sinai Hospital and Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto

Co-author (with Dr. Jon Hunter) of a causal model of the impact of interpersonal relationships on physical health, widely cited in the psychosomatic literature

Major Research Activities

Dr. Maunder’s research explores psychosocial aspects of health and disease, particularly the impact of close interpersonal relationships (attachment) on stress and illness.