Frontal-subcortical circuitry in social attachment and relationships: A cross-sectional fMRI ALE meta-analysis

Behav Brain Res. 2017 May 15;325(Pt B):117-130. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.02.032. Epub 2017 Feb 22.


Researchers have explored the concept of attachment in multiple ways, from animal studies examining imprinting to abnormal attachment in psychopathology. However, until recently, few have considered how neural circuitry develops the effective social bonds that are subsequently replicated in relationships across the lifespan. This current cross-sectional study undertook a fMRI Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analyses to examine the neurocircuitry that governs emotional and behavioural functions critical for building effective social relationships in children and adults. Results suggest that dissociable dorsal cognitive ("cool") and ventral - affective ("hot") frontal-subcortical circuits (FSC) work together to govern social relationships, with repeated social consequences leading to potentially adaptive - or maladaptive - relationships that can become routinized in the cerebellum. Implications for forming stable, functional, social bonds are considered, followed by recommendations for those who struggle with cool and hot FSC functioning that can hinder the development of adaptive prosocial relationships.

Keywords: Cool and hot executive functions; Executive social control; Frontal subcortical circuitry; Functional neuroimaging; Meta-analysis; Social attachment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Child
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Object Attachment*
  • Reward*
  • Social Behavior*