Observed infant-parent attachment and brain morphology in middle childhood: A population-based study

Andrea P. Cortes Hidalgo, Ryan Muetzel, Maartje P.C.M. Luijk, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Hanan El Marroun, Meike W. Vernooij, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Tonya White, Henning Tiemeier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Poor quality of the early infant-parent bond predicts later child problems. Infant-parent attachment has been suggested to influence brain development, but this association has hardly been examined. In adults, larger amygdala volumes have been described in relation to early attachment disorganization; neuroimaging studies of attachment in children, however, are lacking. We examined the association between infant-parent attachment and brain morphology in 551 children from a population-based cohort in the Netherlands. Infant-parent attachment was observed with the Strange-Situation Procedure at age 14 months and different brain measures were collected with magnetic resonance imaging at mean age 10 years. Children with disorganized infant attachment had larger hippocampal volumes than those with organized attachment patterns. This finding was robust to the adjustment for confounders and consistent across hemispheres. The association was not explained by cognitive or emotional and behavioral problems. Disorganized attachment did not predict any other difference in brain morphology. Moreover, children with insecure organized infant attachment patterns did not differ from those who were securely attached in any brain outcome. Causality cannot be inferred, but our findings in this large population-based study provide novel evidence for a long-term association between the quality of infant-parent attachment and specific brain differences in childhood.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100724
JournalDevelopmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the participating children and parents, general practitioners, hospitals, midwives, and pharmacies in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The Generation R Study was conducted by the Erasmus Medical Center in close collaboration with the School of Law and Faculty of Social Sciences of the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Municipal Health Service Rotterdam area, the Rotterdam Homecare Foundation, and the Stichting Trombosedienst & Artsenlaboratorium Rijnmond in Rotterdam. Supercomputing resources were supported by NWO Physical Sciences Division (Exacte Wetenschappen) and SurfSara (Cartesius compute cluster).The work of Andrea P. Cortes Hidalgo and Marinus H. van IJzendoorn is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (Spinoza Prize to MvIJ). Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg is supported by the: European Research Council (ERC AdG, grant number 669249 ). Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg and Marinus H. van IJzendoorn are additionally supported by the Gravitation program of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO grant number 024.001.003 ). Hanan El Marroun is supported by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program [grant agreement No. 633595 DynaHEALTH ] and No.733206 LifeCycle. The neuroimaging and neuroimaging infrastructure is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) TOP project number 91211021 awarded to Tonya White. The work of Henning Tiemeier is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO-grant 016.VICI.170.200 ) and the European Union Seventh Framework Program ( FP7/2007–2013 ): ACTION: Aggression in Children: Unravelling gene-environment interplay to inform Treatment and InterventiON strategies (grant number 602768 ). The general design of the Generation R Study was made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Medical Centre, the Erasmus University, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport , and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development . Appendix A

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