Play it again: neural responses to reunion with excluders predicted by attachment patterns


Address for correspondence: Lars White, Universität Leipzig, Medizinische Fakultät Klinik und Poliklinik für Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie und Psychosomatik des Kindes- und Jugendalters Liebigstraße 20a, 04103 Leipzig, Germany; e-mail: or Michael J. Crowley, Yale Child Study Center, 230 South Frontage Road, New Haven, CT 06473, USA; e-mail:


Reunion behavior following stressful separations from caregivers is often considered the single most sensitive clue to infant attachment patterns. Extending these ideas to middle childhood/early adolescence, we examined participants' neural responses to reunion with peers who had previously excluded them. We recorded event-related potentials among nineteen 11- to 15-year-old youth previously classified on attachment interviews (11 secure and 8 insecure-dismissing) while they played a virtual ball-toss game (Cyberball) with peers that involved fair play, exclusion and reunion phases. Compared to secure participants, dismissing participants displayed a greater increment in the N2 during reunion relative to fair play, a neural marker commonly linked to expectancy violation. These data suggest a greater tendency toward continued expectations of rejection among dismissing children, even after cessation of social exclusion. In turn, the link between self-reported ostracism distress and neural signs of negative expectancy at reunion was moderated by attachment, such that self-reports were discordant with the neural index of expectancy violation for dismissing, but not for secure children.

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