Brain activity underlying negative self- and other-perception in adolescents: The role of attachment-derived self-representations

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Martin Debbané, Deborah Badoud, David Sander, Stephan Eliez, Patrick Luyten and Pascal Vrtička
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AuthorsMartin Debbané, Deborah Badoud, David Sander, Stephan Eliez, Patrick Luyten and Pascal Vrtička
DescriptionOne of teenagers’ key developmental tasks is to engage in new and meaningful relationships with peers and adults outside the family context. Attachment-derived expectations about the self and others in terms of internal attachment working models have the potential to shape such social reorientation processes critically and thereby influence adolescents’ social-emotional development and social integration. The neural underpinnings of this developmental task remain largely unknown. We sought to investigate these by functional magnetic resonance imaging. We asked n=44 adolescents (ages 12.01-18.84) to evaluate positive and negative adjectives regarding either themselves or a close other during an adapted version of the well-established self-other trait-evaluation task. As measures of attachment, we obtained scores reflecting participants’ positive versus negative attachment-derived self- and other-models by means of the Relationship Questionnaire. We controlled for possible confounding factors by also obtaining scores reflecting internalizing/externalizing problems, schizotypy and borderline symptomatology. Our results revealed that participants with a more negative attachment-derived self-model showed increased brain activity during positive and negative adjective evaluation regarding the self, but decreased brain activity during negative adjective evaluation regarding a close other, in bilateral amygdala/parahippocampus, bilateral anterior temporal pole/anterior superior temporal gyrus and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These findings suggest that a low positivity of the self-concept characteristic for the attachment anxiety dimension may influence neural information processing, but in opposite directions when it comes to self- versus (close) other-representations. We discuss our results in the framework of attachment theory and regarding their implication especially for adolescent social-emotional development and social integration.
JournalCognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
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Add DateOct. 20, 2016, 11:40 a.m.