Neural representation of the parent-child attachment from infancy to adulthood

Adi Ulmer-Yaniv, Shani Waidergoren, Ariel Shaked, Roy Salomon, Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attachment theory is built on the assumption of consistency; the mother-infant bond is thought to underpin the life-long representations individuals construct of attachment relationships. Still, consistency in the individual's neural response to attachment-related stimuli representing his or her entire relational history has not been investigated. Mothers and children were followed across two decades and videotaped in infancy (3-6 months), childhood (9-12 years) and young adulthood (18-24 years). In adulthood, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while exposed to videos of own mother-child interactions (Self) vs unfamiliar interactions (Other). Self-stimuli elicited greater activations across preregistered nodes of the human attachment network, including thalamus-to-brainstem, amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), insula and temporal cortex. Critically, self-stimuli were age-invariant in most regions of interest despite large variability in social behavior, and Bayesian analysis showed strong evidence for lack of age-related differences. Psycho-physiological interaction analysis indicated that self-stimuli elicited tighter connectivity between ACC and anterior insula, consolidating an interface associating information from exteroceptive and interceptive sources to sustain attachment representations. Child social engagement behavior was individually stable from infancy to adulthood and linked with greater ACC and insula response to self-stimuli. Findings demonstrate overlap in circuits sustaining parental and child attachment and accord with perspectives on the continuity of attachment across human development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-624
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2 Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.


  • ACC
  • attachment
  • longitudinal studies
  • mother-child relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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