Insecure attachment during infancy predicts greater amygdala volumes in early adulthood

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2015 May;56(5):540-8. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12317. Epub 2014 Aug 23.

Abstract

Background: The quality of the early environment is hypothesized to be an influence on morphological development in key neural areas related to affective responding, but direct evidence to support this possibility is limited. In a 22-year longitudinal study, we examined hippocampal and amygdala volumes in adulthood in relation to early infant attachment status, an important indicator of the quality of the early caregiving environment.

Methods: Participants (N = 59) were derived from a prospective longitudinal study of the impact of maternal postnatal depression on child development. Infant attachment status (35 Secure; 24 Insecure) was observed at 18 months of age, and MRI assessments were completed at 22 years [corrected].

Results: In line with hypotheses, insecure versus secure infant attachment status was associated with larger amygdala volumes in young adults, an effect that was not accounted for by maternal depression history. We did not find early infant attachment status to predict hippocampal volumes.

Conclusions: Common variations in the quality of early environment are associated with gross alterations in amygdala morphology in the adult brain. Further research is required to establish the neural changes that underpin the volumetric differences reported here, and any functional implications.

Keywords: Attachment; amygdala; brain development; longitudinal; maternal depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / anatomy & histology*
  • Amygdala / growth & development
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology*
  • Young Adult