Description: One 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.
Related article: http://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-017-0497-9
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