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, 34 (6), 1399-414

Attachment Models Affect Brain Responses in Areas Related to Emotions and Empathy in Nulliparous Women


Attachment Models Affect Brain Responses in Areas Related to Emotions and Empathy in Nulliparous Women

Delia Lenzi et al. Hum Brain Mapp.


Background: The attachment model, as assessed by means of the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), is crucial for understanding emotion regulation and feelings of security in human interactions as well as for the construction of the caregiving system. The caregiving system is a set of representations about affiliative behaviors, guided by sensitivity and empathy, and is fully mature in young-adulthood. Here, we examine how different attachment models influence brain responses in areas related to empathy and emotions in young-adult subjects with secure and dismissing attachment models.

Methods: By means of AAI, we selected 11 nulliparous young-adult females with a secure model and 12 with a dismissing model. Subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance, whereas imitating or observing and empathizing with infant facial expressions. Subjects were tested for alexithymia and reflective functioning.

Results: Dismissing subjects activated motor, mirror, and limbic brain areas to a significantly greater extent, but deactivated the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) and the perigenual anterior cingulated cortex (pACC). During emotional faces, increased activity in dismissing women was seen in the right temporal pole. Furthermore, greater alexithymia was correlated with greater activity in the entorhinal cortex and greater deactivation in the pACC/mOFC.

Conclusions: These findings provide evidence of how the attachment model influences brain responses during a task eliciting attachment. In particular, hyperactivation of limbic and mirror areas may reflect emotional dysregulation of infantile experiences of rejection and lack of protection, whereas increased deactivation of fronto-medial areas may be the expression of the inhibition of attachment behaviors, which is a typical aspect of dismissing attachment.

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