Dismissing Attachment Characteristics Dynamically Modulate Brain Networks Subserving Social Aversion

Anna Linda Krause, Viola Borchardt, Meng Li, Marie-Jose van Tol, Liliana Ramona Demenescu, Bernhard Strauss, Helmut Kirchmanny, Anna Buchheim, Coraline D. Metzger, Tobias Nolte, Martin Walter

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Attachment patterns influence actions, thoughts and feeling through a person's "inner working model". Speech charged with attachment-dependent content was proposed to modulate the activation of cognitive-emotional schemata in listeners. We performed a 7 Tesla rest-task-rest functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)experiment, presenting auditory narratives prototypical of dismissing attachment representations to investigate their effect on 23 healthy males. We then examined effects of participants' attachment style and childhood trauma on brain state changes using seed based functional connectivity (FC) analyses, and finally tested whether subjective differences in responsivity to narratives could be predicted by baseline network states. In comparison to a baseline state, we observed increased FC in a previously described "social aversion network" including dorsal anterior cingulated cortex (dACC) and left anterior middle temporal gyrus (aMTG) specifically after exposure to insecure-dismissing attachment narratives. Increased dACC-seeded FC within the social aversion network was positively related to the participants' avoidant attachment style and presence of a history of childhood trauma. Anxious attachment style on the other hand was positively correlated with FC between the dACC and a region outside of the "social aversion network", namely the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which suggests decreased network segregation as a function of anxious attachment. Finally, the extent of subjective experience of friendliness towards the dismissing narrative was predicted by low baseline FC values between hippocampus and inferior parietal lobule (IPL). Taken together, our study demonstrates an activation of networks related to social aversion in terms of increased connectivity after listening to insecure-dismissing attachment narratives. A causal interrelation of brain state changes and subsequent changes in social reactivity was further supported by our observation of direct prediction of neuronal responses by individual attachment and trauma characteristics and reversely prediction of subjective experience by intrinsic functional connections. We consider these findings of activation of within-network and between-network connectivity modulated by inter-individual differences as substantial for the understanding of interpersonal processes, particularly in clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number77
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 9-Mar-2016


  • functional connectivity
  • individual differences
  • attachment
  • cognitive schema
  • resting-state
  • FMRI
  • MRI

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