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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00139

Adult Attachment Affects Neural Response to Preference-Inferring in Ambiguous Scenarios: Evidence From an fMRI Study

  • 1Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, China
  • 2Institude of Education, China West Normal University, China

Humans are highly social animals, and the ability to cater to the preferences of other individuals is encouraged by society. Preference inferring is an important aspect of the theory of mind (TOM). Many previous studies have shown that attachment style is closely related to TOM ability. However, little is known about the effects of adult attachment style on preferences inferring under different levels of certainty. Here, we investigated how adult attachment style affects neural activity underlying preferences inferred under different levels of certainty by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The fMRI results demonstrated that adult attachment influenced the activation of anterior insula (AI) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL) in response to ambiguous preference inferring. More specifically, in the ambiguous preference condition, the avoidant attached groups exhibited a significantly enhanced activation than secure and anxious attached groups in left IPL; the anxious attached groups exhibited a significantly reduced activation secure attached group in left IPL. In addition, the anxious attached groups exhibited a significantly reduced activation than secure and avoidant attached groups in left AI. These results were also further confirmed by the subsequent PPI analysis. The results from current study suggest that, under ambiguous situations, the avoidant attached individuals show lower sensitivity to the preference of other individuals and need to invest more cognitive resources for preference-reasoning; while compared with avoidant attached group, the anxious attached individuals express high tolerance for uncertainty and a higher ToM proficiency. Results from the current study imply that differences in preference inferring under ambiguous conditions associated with different levels of individual attachment may explain the differences in interpersonal interaction.

Keywords: preference inferring, Theory of Mind, adult attachment, fMRI, Anterior Insula, inferior parietal lobule

Received: 22 Jul 2017; Accepted: 29 Jan 2018.

Edited by:

Xi-Nian Zuo, Institute of Psychology (CAS), China

Reviewed by:

Kenneth S. Yuen, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany
Zhixiong Yan, Guangxi Teacher Education University, China  

Copyright: © 2018 Zhang, Chen, Ran, Xu and Ma. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Xu Chen, Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Beibei, China, chenxu@swu.edu.cn