Biodevelopmental basis for affiliative traits

Affiliation (social attachment, friendliness, gregariousness, empathy, etc.) is another core trait that can be measured consistently in personality questionnaires. Poor or distorted affiliative behaviour is the most predictive marker for a reliable diagnosis of personality disorder. (1 ,i3,,36) Deficits or alterations in affiliative tendencies may show a variety of clinical manifestations: extreme aloofness and detachment, manipulative, non-empathic or exploitative attitudes, and even definite asocial or antisocial tendencies.

These behavioural styles appear, in different degrees and combinations, in several clinical categories of abnormal temperament. They could reflect alterations in the functioning of neuroendocrine systems specialized in mediating affective attachments, possibly including subsystems for social reward and social distress. (37) In this respect, an impressive amount of evidence has been gathered from the behavioural neurosciences (mostly in animals but recently in humans as well) showing that prosocial behaviours, such as sexuality, maternal nurturing, friendliness/gregariousness, separation distress, social bonding, and group play, share some neurochemical controls. Central oxytocin and opioid systems are among the more relevant of these modulatory controls, because several types of attachments (mother-infant bonds, young peer bonds, pair-mating bonds, in-group tendencies, etc.) are dramatically altered when the functions of oxytocinergic or opioid systems in the brain are modified/37,38) Other centrally acting neuropeptides, such as prolactin and vasopressin, may also contribute to particular types of species-specific social bonding. In addition, both the central regulatory monoaminergic systems and the corticotrophin-adrenal cascades that mediate stress adaptations help to organize responses to everyday social challenges.(37)

The application of these ideas to personality measurement is still in its infancy and requires the development of reliable biological markers. However, theory and research in the psychobiology of social attachments(1,3M°,4 and 42) has linked the impact of early rearing practices (secure/nurturing mothering versus peer rearing or isolation) with the future organization and functioning of several neuroendocrinological systems. This research has mainly explored the function of the central modulatory monoamines noradrenaline (norepinephrine), dopamine, and serotonin, and the hypophyseal-adrenal axis responses to social challenges. The evidence has shown that socially deprived monkeys differ physiologically, behaviourally, and cognitively from mother-reared infants in almost every aspect of what it means to be a social monkey; if the privation extends over the first 6 to 9 months of postnatal life, most effects persist into the adulthood. According to Kraemer: (41) 'The way in which socially deprived individuals orient to and respond physiologically to social stressors is altered and the kind of behavioural differences that seem to be the most important are those usually assigned to the domain of "temperament"'.

With the addition of the central neuropeptide systems that specifically modulate affiliative tendencies, the study of some crucial experiences during early infancy (and probably adolescence) may provide clues to the clarification of the role that developmental processes play in shaping attachment styles. Neural organization depends, to a great extent, on critical environmental inputs to produce enduring behavioural and cognitive adaptation in all domains. Therefore ontogenic factors must be particularly important in modelling social behaviour and in sustaining profiles of affiliative versus non-affiliative temperaments, in the same way as has already been demonstrated for other temperamental traits. For instance, in reactive/fearful monkeys, maternal and even grandparental rearing practices can significantly modify future neuroendocrine and behavioural adaptations.(42) More recently, parallel data have been obtained in rats. (43,>

These findings do not exclude the participation of genetic dispositions in attachment styles. Some authors have suggested that the operation of 'communicative' or 'affiliative' genes could prime individual tendencies through different sorts of emotional affects. (44) However, it is important to remember that we are dealing with genetically based dispositions that can be environmentally malleable, although the complex interactions have still to be elucidated. There is a paucity of data on the putative genetic basis of attachment styles. When a molecular approach has been used in some rodent species to establish a genetic link (within the domain of the oxytocin receptor gene) with conspicuous social behaviour, such as monogamous pair-bonding, the results have been mainly inconclusive. (45> However, recent data for the vasopressin V1a receptor have yielded promising results.(46)

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