Attachment patterns trigger differential neural signature of emotional processing in adolescents

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 5;8(8):e70247. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070247. Print 2013.


Background: Research suggests that individuals with different attachment patterns process social information differently, especially in terms of facial emotion recognition. However, few studies have explored social information processes in adolescents. This study examined the behavioral and ERP correlates of emotional processing in adolescents with different attachment orientations (insecure attachment group and secure attachment group; IAG and SAG, respectively). This study also explored the association of these correlates to individual neuropsychological profiles.

Methodology/principal findings: We used a modified version of the dual valence task (DVT), in which participants classify stimuli (faces and words) according to emotional valence (positive or negative). Results showed that the IAG performed significantly worse than SAG on tests of executive function (EF attention, processing speed, visuospatial abilities and cognitive flexibility). In the behavioral DVT, the IAG presented lower performance and accuracy. The IAG also exhibited slower RTs for stimuli with negative valence. Compared to the SAG, the IAG showed a negative bias for faces; a larger P1 and attenuated N170 component over the right hemisphere was observed. A negative bias was also observed in the IAG for word stimuli, which was demonstrated by comparing the N170 amplitude of the IAG with the valence of the SAG. Finally, the amplitude of the N170 elicited by the facial stimuli correlated with EF in both groups (and negative valence with EF in the IAG).

Conclusions/significance: Our results suggest that individuals with different attachment patterns process key emotional information and corresponding EF differently. This is evidenced by an early modulation of ERP components' amplitudes, which are correlated with behavioral and neuropsychological effects. In brief, attachments patterns appear to impact multiple domains, such as emotional processing and EFs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*

Grants and funding

This work was supported by grants from Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT/FONDECYT Regular 1090610 to VL and 1130920 to AI); Fondo para la Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (FONCyT- PICT) 2012-0412 to FM), FONCyT- PICT 2012-1309 to AI; James McDonnell Foundation to MS; Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) and INECO Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.