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Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Jul 17;6:212. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00212. eCollection 2012.

Neuroscience of human social interactions and adult attachment style.

Author information

  • 1Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva Geneva, Switzerland.

Abstract

Since its first description four decades ago, attachment theory (AT) has become one of the principal developmental psychological frameworks for describing the role of individual differences in the establishment and maintenance of social bonds between people. Yet, still little is known about the neurobiological underpinnings of attachment orientations and their well-established impact on a range of social and affective behaviors. In the present review, we summarize data from recent studies using cognitive and imaging approaches to characterize attachment styles and their effect on emotion and social cognition. We propose a functional neuroanatomical framework to integrate the key brain mechanisms involved in the perception and regulation of social emotional information, and their modulation by individual differences in terms of secure versus insecure (more specifically avoidant, anxious, or resolved versus unresolved) attachment traits. This framework describes how each individual's attachment style (built through interactions between personal relationship history and predispositions) may influence the encoding of approach versus aversion tendencies (safety versus threat) in social encounters, implicating the activation of a network of subcortical (amygdala, hippocampus, striatum) and cortical (insula, cingulate) limbic areas. These basic and automatic affective evaluation mechanisms are in turn modulated by more elaborate and voluntary cognitive control processes, subserving mental state attribution and emotion regulation capacities, implicating a distinct network in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), superior temporal sulcus (STS), and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), among others. Recent neuroimaging data suggest that affective evaluation is decreased in avoidantly but increased in anxiously attached individuals. In turn, although data on cognitive control is still scarce, it points toward a possible enhancement of mental state representations associated with attachment insecurity and particularly anxiety. Emotion regulation strategies such as reappraisal or suppression of social emotions are also differentially modulated by attachment style. This research does not only help better understand the neural underpinnings of human social behavior, but also provides important insights on psychopathological conditions where attachment dysregulation is likely to play an important (causal) role.

KEYWORDS:

adult attachment style; cognitive affective neuroscience; emotional versus cognitive mentalization; functional neuroanatomical framework; human social interactions

PMID:
22822396
[PubMed]
PMCID:
PMC3398354
Free PMC Article

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