Attachment bonds are formed in early childhood. Relationships with nurturing attentive caregivers result in secure attachment bonds in children as they age. However, dismissive caregivers who neglect or avoid relationships with their children tend to cause insecure and dismissive attachment behaviors and perceptions in these children. The attachment bonds directly shape children’s internal working models (IWMs), the way in which children see the world and others around them. But little attention has been given to how these attachments predict a child’s behavior and IWM in the absence of the caregiver. To address this issue, Lars O. White of the Yale University Child Study Center and the University of Leipzig in Germany conducted an experiment to determine how children’s IWMs would predict their behaviors and perceptions in new social settings.
To this end, White and colleagues conducted a study that evaluated the neural activity of 10 dismissing and 13 secure-attachment adolescents during a virtual ball-tossing game. The children believed they were engaged in a game with two other real children; however, the game actually involved computer-generated teammates. As the game progressed, each child would eventually be rejected until eventually all the children were left out of their respective games. During the experiment, the team evaluated the neural activity of the children, and then at the conclusion, they assessed their feelings of distress using self-reports.
The researchers found that the children who had distress attachment bias exhibited reduced left frontal wave activity during the rejection exercise, indicating distress. These children also showed less motivation to continue the exercise and predicted that they would be rejected before they actually were. In contrast, the participants with secure attachments did not display any outward or physiological signs of distress when they were rejected by their virtual peers. Surprisingly, in the self-reports, the distressed adolescents underreported their levels of distress in nearly all instances. White said, “Our findings imply that evaluations and regulatory strategies linked to attachment generalize to distressing social contexts in early adolescence.”
White, L. O., Wu, J., Borelli, J. L., Rutherford, H. J. V., David, D. H., Kim-Cohen, J., Mayes, L. C., Crowley, M. J. (2012, January 16). Attachment Dismissal Predicts Frontal Slow-Wave ERPs During Rejection by Unfamiliar Peers. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026750
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