Article accepted! Modernizing relationship therapy through Social Thermoregulation Theory.

We just had a new article accepted in which we discuss the role of sensor and actuator technology in relationship therapy. The article is a somewhat logical continuation of our earlier work in which we suggested that attachment is “radically embodied” (cf. Beckes et al., 2015). Based on the available literature, we conclude that modern relationships are pleisiomorphically organized around processes of body temperature regulation. Somewhat more simply stated, humans are a bit like penguins in that when they are cold, they are driven to get in touch with others (see e.g., Van Acker et al., 2016).

But humans are much more than that. There’s a considerable amount of research pointing to the fact that felt emotions correlate one way or another with changes in peripheral temperature and there are also some early studies pointing to peripheral temperature changes when we see the emotions of loved ones. We think that these point to co-regulatory patterns in peripheral temperature that are important for modern relationships (see e.g., a review on co-regulation by Butler & Randall, 2012). How this exactly works is to date unclear, but in this article we point to the steps necessary to understand co-regulatory patterns in temperature regulation and also how therapists – in the long run – can intervene. Abstract is pasted below and the article is downloadable for free here. An app that can be used to test this idea is available here.


In the present article the authors propose to modernize relationship therapy by integrating novel sensor and actuator technologies that can help optimize people’s thermoregulation, especially as they pertain to social contexts. Specifically, they propose to integrate Social Thermoregulation Theory (IJzerman, Coan, et al., 2015a; IJzerman & Hogerzeil, 2017) into Emotionally Focused Therapy by first doing exploratory research during couples’ therapy, followed by Randomized Clinical Trials (RCTs). The authors thus suggest crafting a Social Thermoregulation Therapy as enhancement to existing relationship therapies. The authors outline what is known and not known in terms of social thermoregulatory mechanisms, what kind of data collection and analyses are necessary to better understand social thermoregulatory mechanisms to craft interventions, and stress the need to conduct RCTs prior to implementation. They further warn against too hastily applying these theoretical perspectives. The article concludes by outlining why Social Thermoregulation Therapy is the way forward in improving relationship functioning.