Adult attachment anxiety is associated with enhanced automatic neural response to positive facial expression.

Donges US, Kugel H, Stuhrmann A, Grotegerd D, Redlich R, Lichev V, Rosenberg N, Ihme K, Suslow T, Dannlowski U

Research article (journal)


According to social psychology models of adult attachment, a fundamental dimension of attachment is anxiety. Individuals who are high in attachment anxiety are motivated to achieve intimacy in relationships, but are mistrustful of others and their availability. Behavioral research has shown that anxiously attached persons are vigilant for emotional facial expression, but the neural substrates underlying this perceptual sensitivity remain largely unknown. In the present study functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to examine automatic brain reactivity to approach-related facial emotions as a function of attachment anxiety in a sample of 109 healthy adults. Pictures of sad and happy faces were presented masked by neutral faces. The Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ) was used to assess attachment style. Attachment anxiety was correlated with depressivity, trait anxiety, and attachment avoidance. Controlling for these variables, attachment-related anxiety was positively related to responses in left inferior, middle, and medial prefrontal areas, globus pallidus, claustrum, and right cerebellum to masked happy facial expression. Attachment anxiety was not found to be associated with brain activation due to masked sad faces. Our findings suggest that anxiously attached adults are automatically more responsive to positive approach-related facial expression in brain areas that are involved in the perception of facial emotion, facial mimicry, or the assessment of affective value and social distance.

Details zur Publikation

Release year: 2012
Language in which the publication is writtenEnglish