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The role of executive function and attachment styles on autobiographical memories of relationships. Sezin Oner & Sami Gulgoz Koc University Istanbul . Turkey. Attachment theory ( Bowlby . 1980)

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the role of executive function and attachment styles on autobiographical memories of relationships

The role of executive function and attachment styles on autobiographical memories of relationships

Sezin Oner & Sami Gulgoz



ESCOP 2013

Budapest. Hungary


Attachment theory (Bowlby. 1980)

  • Internal working models develop from interactions with “significant others” and form the relational schemas that act as mental codes.
  • Attachment-behavioral system: “from the cradle to grave”.
    • Guide individuals’ information-processing and self-regulation in relational experiences
    • An overall self-regulation system involving cognitive, affective, and behavioral strategies (e.g. Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003; 2007).
attachment behavior

(By R. ChrisFraley. copiedfrom


Previous evidence

  • Biased attention towards attachment-related stimuli

(Edelstein, 2006)

- positive or negative, or both?


  • Suppression of attachment-related information no longer works under cognitive load – the spill-over effect (or rebound) is observed on automatic or effortful processing. or both? (Mikulincer et al., 20004; Edelstein & Gillath, 2008)

The way of reflecting on thoughtprocesses contributes one to purposefully direct future actions and also make meaning of experiences.

  • Considering functions of autobiographical memories (e.g. Bluck & Alea. 2003; Bluck et al.. 2005), metacognitive processes were investigated.
  • Metacognitivetendencies(Wells & Cartwright-Hatton, 2004)
    • the need to control thoughts
    • positive beliefs
    • cognitive confidence (metamemory)
    • uncontrollability and danger
    • cognitive self-consciousness
current research

Specific focus on the attachment related mechanisms on the phenomenological characteristics of autobiographical memories.

current research1


  • to investigate the role of attachment anxiety/attachment avoidance in how we remember relational experiences.
  • to test whether metacognitive strategies and executive function are involved in the association between attachment and memory
current research2
  • Attachment anxiety: “hyperactivating” self regulation strategy – underregulation of affect taxing cognitive functioning
    • High anxiety is associated with higher reliving higher rehearsal higher emotionality
    • High anxiety is associated with lower performance on executive tasks. specifically affecting the attachment-related information
    • Particular aspects of metacognition contribute to the effect of attachment variables (especially thought control and uncontrollability)
current research3
  • Attachmentavoidance: “deactivating” self regulationstrategy – overrregulation of affect. but stilltaxingcognitivefunctioning
    • Highavoidance is associatedwithlowerreliving. lowerrehearsal. loweremotionality
    • Highavoidance y is associatedwithlowerperformance on executivetasks. specificallyaffectingtheattachment-relatedinformation
  • Participants (N = 104) were recruited from Koc University in exchange for course credit
  • Participants were excluded if they
    • have not been involved in any romantic relationship
    • did not provide appropriate autobiographical memory reports
    • performed less than 85% accuracy criteria in AOSPAN

All the measures were completed online in the lab.

  • Experiences in Close Relationships-II (ECR-II)
    • Attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance
  • Metacognition Questionnaire-30
  • Demographic information
    • Relationship status
      • Are you currently in a romantic relationship?
        • If yes how long?
        • If no. have you been in any romantic relationship?
          • If yes. how long ago?
  • Two negative and two positive memories
  • Memory Characteristics Questionnaire
    • Event qualities at retrieval such as intensity. vividness. importance. rehearsal.
  • Emotional Stroop
    • Attachment-related. non-attachment related positive and negative words. also neutral words in random order.
  • Automated Operation Span (AOSPAN)

ES and AOSPAN scores were correlated with each other.

    • Their association seems tobe independent of attachment variables and anyeventqualities.

Hierarchical regression analyses;

  • Step 1: Memory age
  • Step 2: Relationship Status (Current)
  • Step 3: Anxiety and Avoidance
  • Step 4: Metacognitive Strategies
    • Positive beliefs. Uncontrollability. Thought Control. Cognitive awareness. Metamemory subscale scores were entered in stepwise regression

Negative memories

  • The model was not significantforonlyforintentional remembering

Positive memories

  • The effect of relationship status was observed that memories of current relationships were more likely to be remembered and reexperienced, and rated as more emotionally intense.
  • Individuals with high attachment anxiety tend to report
    • more reliving
    • more involuntary remembering
    • more voluntary rehearsal
  • Individuals with high attachment avoidance tend to report
    • less intense emotions at the time of the event
    • less involuntary remembering
    • less voluntary rehearsal
    • attributedlessimportancetorelationalexperiences
  • Attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance were found to be associated with how we remember experiences in romantic relationships independent of the passage of time.
  • Highanxiety : negativememorieswereperceived as alarm states
    • Increasedreliving
    • Increasedemotionalintensity
    • Highimportance
  • Avoidancewasmorelikelytoinfluencepositiveremembering
  • Preventingcorreectivefeedback in relatonships
    • Not all memory characteristics were influenced!

Current vs previous relationship

  • Why only on positive memories?
    • Current relationship might provide the context, attachment issues are real!
    • Intimacy function (Bluck & Alea, 2010)
    • More related to current goals (Conway,, Singer, & Tagini, 2004)

Positive vs negative memories

  • If highly anxious, positive memories were more likely to retrieved, however, at the time of the retrieval, emotional intensity is independent of anxiety.
  • Positive memories, retrieved with blunted affect.
  • High avoidance, associated with low consequentiality, and emotional intensity
    • prevents the resolution, or emotional processing of negative events
    • less likely to make meaning of positive experiences.
  • Attachment-related differences were reflected to metacognitive style.
    • Involuntaryretrievalwasdifferentiallyassociatedwithmetacognitivetendenciesforpositiveandnegativememories
  • Thoughts about self-cognitive processes might feedback attachment-based expectations.
    • Memorymistrust, feelings of uncontrollabilityresulted in moreknowjudgments
    • Possibletoinhibiteffectivedecision-making
questions for future research
  • Attachment styles and future projections
    • linking past to future: moderating role of attachment and relationship satisfaction on imagining future of the relationship.
  • Does reporting order influence the effect of attachment anxiety or/and attachment avoidance?
  • Does the emotional state at retrieval elevate/decrease the influence of attachment anxiety vs. attachment avoidance?
  • Underlying mechanisms should be defined to explain the the association between executive function. and autobiographical remembering linked to attachment.
questions comments
Questions & Comments?

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