Brain activity and infant attachment history in young men during loss and reward processing

Karina Quevedo, Theodore E.A. Waters, Hannah Scott, Glenn I. Roisman, Daniel S. Shaw, Erika E. Forbes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is now ample evidence that the quality of early attachment experiences shapes expectations for supportive and responsive care and ultimately serves to scaffold adaptation to the salient tasks of development. Nonetheless, few studies have identified neural mechanisms that might give rise to these associations. Using a moderately large sample of low-income male participants recruited during infancy (N = 171), we studied the predictive significance of attachment insecurity and disorganization at age 18 months (as measured in the Strange Situation Procedure) for patterns of neural activation to reward and loss at age 20 years (assessed during a reward-based task as part of a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan). Results indicated that individuals with a history of insecure attachment showed hyperactivity in (a) reward- and emotion-related (e.g., basal ganglia and amygdala) structures and (b) emotion regulation and self-referential processing (cortical midline structures) in response to positive and negative outcomes (and anticipation of those outcomes). Further, the neural activation of individuals with a history of disorganized attachment suggested that they had greater emotional reactivity in anticipation of reward and employed greater cognitive control when negative outcomes were encountered. Overall, results suggest that the quality of early attachments has lasting impacts on brain function and reward processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-476
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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