Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You: Tendency to Maintain Cognitive Activation of Significant Other Representations

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Abstract

Attachment is related to behaviors, including contact maintenance/proximity seeking, and to the keeping of the attachment figure physically, visually, or mentally accessible. In a series of experiments, we observed an analogous behavior in a simple laboratory task in the absence of any stress-related manipulations. Participants performed an easy, choice reaction time (RT) task (often emotionally neutral) on pictures (or names) of significant others versus other persons, both familiar and unfamiliar to them. Results showed that participants took longer to press the key, which started the next trial, when the current trial involved the picture (or name) of their significant other. This effect was observed among parents who responded to their children’s pictures, people who are in a romantic relationship, and young adults who responded to the name of a parent; it was only eliminated when participants adopted an analytic approach (i.e., judged the person’s age). These results indicate that attachment-related behavioral tendencies, associated with keeping the representation of the significant other active, may be easily invoked in a simple task, even without any apparent stress manipulation.

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