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Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Dec 26;10:644. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00644. eCollection 2016.

Attachment Representations and Brain Asymmetry during the Processing of Autobiographical Emotional Memories in Late Adolescence.

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Institute of Psychology, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg Erlangen, Germany.


Frontal and parietal asymmetries have repeatedly been shown to be related to specific functional mechanisms involved in emotion regulation. From a developmental perspective, attachment representations based on experiences with the caregiver are theorized to serve regulatory functions and influence how individuals deal with emotionally challenging situations throughout the life span. This study aimed to investigate neural substrates of emotion regulation by assessing state- and trait dependent EEG asymmetries in secure, insecure-dismissing and insecure-preoccupied subjects. The sample consisted of 40 late adolescents. The Adult Attachment Interview was administered and they were asked to report upon personally highly salient emotional memories related to anger, happiness and sadness. EEG was recorded at rest and during the retrieval of each of these emotional memories, and frontal and parietal hemispheric asymmetry were analyzed. We found attachment representations to differentially affect both the frontal and parietal organization of hemispheric asymmetry at rest and (for parietal region only) during the retrieval of emotional memories. During rest, insecure-dismissing subjects showed an elevated right-frontal brain activity and a reduced right-parietal brain activity. We interpret this finding in light of a disposition to use withdrawal strategies and low trait arousal in insecure-dismissing subjects. Emotional memory retrieval did not affect frontal asymmetry. However, both insecure groups showed an increase in right-sided parietal activity indicating increased arousal during the emotional task as compared to the resting state suggesting that their emotion regulation capability was especially challenged by the retrieval of emotional memories while securely attached subjects maintained a state of moderate arousal. The specific neurophysiological pattern of insecure-dismissing subjects is discussed with regard to a vulnerability to affective disorders.


EEG; attachment; early adulthood; emotional memory; hemispheric asymmetry

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