The neural correlates of attachment style during emotional processing: an activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis

Attach Hum Dev. 2018 Dec;20(6):626-633. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2018.1465105. Epub 2018 May 7.


Attachment style is a relatively stable trait linked to emotion regulation and coping as measured by questionnaire responses. An increasing number of functional brain imaging studies have explored the neural underpinnings of attachment style during emotional processing. However, until now, an overall picture of brain regions involved in this trait remained unexplored. Here, we conducted a meta-analysis of 12 peer-reviewed studies on attachment style using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We observed a significant negative correlation between avoidance attachment scores and activation of left inferior frontal gyrus to emotional stimuli, implying an inhibition processing for emotional stimuli in people with high avoidance attachment. In addition, there was a significant positive correlation between anxiety attachment scores and activation of left amygdala during emotional processing, which suggested an increased vigilance to emotional stimuli.

Keywords: ALE; Attachment style; anxiety attachment; avoidance attachment; emotional processing.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / pathology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Object Attachment*