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      Attachment avoidance modulates neural response to masked facial emotion.

      Human Brain Mapping

      Adult, Brain Mapping, Cues, Emotions, physiology, Facial Expression, Female, Functional Laterality, Humans, Imaging, Three-Dimensional, methods, Interpersonal Relations, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Object Attachment, Oxygen, blood, Perceptual Masking, Photic Stimulation, Questionnaires, Young Adult

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          According to recent models of individual differences in attachment organization, a basic dimension of adult attachment is avoidance. Attachment-related avoidance corresponds to tendencies to withdraw from close relationships and to an unwillingness to rely on others. In the formation of attachment orientation during infancy facial emotional interaction plays a central role. There exists an inborn very rapid decoding capacity for facial emotional expression. In this study, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to examine differences in automatic brain reactivity to facial emotions as a function of attachment avoidance in a sample of 51 healthy adults. Pictures of sad and happy faces (which are approach-related interpersonal signals) were presented masked by neutral faces. The Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ) was used to assess the attachment avoidance. Masked sad faces activated the amygdala, the insula, occipito-temporal areas, and the somatosensory cortices. Independently from trait anxiety, depressivity, and detection performance, attachment avoidance was found to be inversely related to responses of the primary somatosensory cortex (BA 3) to masked sad faces. A low spontaneous responsivity of the primary somatosensory cortex to negative faces could be a correlate of the habitual unwillingness to deal with partners' distress and needs for proximity. The somatosensory cortices are known to be critically involved in the processes of emotional mimicry and simulation which have the potential to increase social affiliation. Our data are consistent with the idea that people who withdraw from close relationships respond spontaneously to a lesser extent to negative interpersonal emotional signals than securely attached individuals.

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