Effects of adult attachment and emotional distractors on brain mechanisms of cognitive control

Stacie L. Warren, Kelly K. Bost, Glenn I. Roisman, Rebecca Silton, Jeffrey M. Spielberg, Anna S. Engels, Eunsil Choi, Bradley P. Sutton, Gregory A. Miller, Wendy Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Using data from 34 participants who completed an emotion-word Stroop task during functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined the effects of adult attachment on neural activity associated with top-down cognitive control in the presence of emotional distractors. Individuals with lower levels of secure-base-script knowledge-reflected in an adult's inability to generate narratives in which attachment-related threats are recognized, competent help is provided, and the problem is resolved-demonstrated more activity in prefrontal cortical regions associated with emotion regulation (e.g., right orbitofrontal cortex) and with top-down cognitive control (left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and superior frontal gyrus). Less efficient performance and related increases in brain activity suggest that insecure attachment involves a vulnerability to distraction by attachment-relevant emotional information and that greater cognitive control is required to attend to task-relevant, nonemotional information. These results contribute to the understanding of mechanisms through which attachment-related experiences may influence developmental adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1818-1826
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (P50 MH079485, R01 MH61358, T32 MH19554) and by the University of Illinois Beckman Institute and Department of Psychology.


  • Stroop
  • attachment
  • cognitive control
  • emotion regulation
  • fMRI
  • secure-base-script knowledge


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