Insecure attachment during infancy predicts greater amygdala volumes in early adulthood

Christina Moutsiana, Tom Johnstone, Lynne Murray, Pasco Fearon, Peter J. Cooper, Christos Pliatsikas, Ian Goodyer, Sarah L. Halligan

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Background: The quality of the early environment is hypothesized to be an influence on morphological development in key neural areas related to affective responding, but direct evidence to support this possibility is limited. In a 22-year longitudinal study, we examined hippocampal and amygdala volumes in adulthood in relation to early infant attachment status, an important indicator of the quality of the early caregiving environment. Methods: Participants (N = 59) were derived from a prospective longitudinal study of the impact of maternal postnatal depression on child development. Infant attachment status (24 Secure; 35 Insecure) was observed at 18 months of age, and MRI assessments were completed at 22 years. Results: In line with hypotheses, insecure versus secure infant attachment status was associated with larger amygdala volumes in young adults, an effect that was not accounted for by maternal depression history. We did not find early infant attachment status to predict hippocampal volumes. Conclusions: Common variations in the quality of early environment are associated with gross alterations in amygdala morphology in the adult brain. Further research is required to establish the neural changes that underpin the volumetric differences reported here, and any functional implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-548
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date23 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


  • Attachment
  • Brain development
  • Amygdala
  • Longitudinal
  • Maternal depression


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