Affiliation & social relationships

Affiliation - the motivation for and reward gained from social closeness - is a fundamental human capacity. We are investigating affiliation across development, including what happens when affiliative processes are disrupted.

For example, we recently investigated low affiliation in the context of psychopathy - a disorder characterized by affective and interpersonal deficits, deviant lifestyle, and antisocial behaviors. Much research has been dedicated to understanding the impairments in reinforcement learning, fear conditioning, and sensitivity to threat, distress, or fear in others, which are thought to underpin psychopathic traits. However, fewer studies had examined deficits in affiliative processes, which could provide insight into mechanisms giving rise to the impairments in social bonding, closeness with others, and cooperation that also characterize individuals high on psychopathy. Thus, in this recent study, we examined whether reduced sensitivity to affiliation was related to psychopathic traits among 407 adults from the community (female, 59%). Sensitivity to affiliation was modeled as a latent construct capturing item-level variance shared across 4 measures that assessed sensitivity to emotional and physical cues of affiliation, including stimuli presented as videos or images, and via self-report ratings about sensitivity to positive affiliative and affective cues. Results indicated that lower sensitivity to affiliation was related to higher total psychopathy scores. In particular, in models parsing the overlap of psychopathy factor and facet scores, lower sensitivity to affiliation was uniquely related to higher Factor 1 and affective facet scores, as well as higher scores on a measure of callous–unemotional traits. Our findings provide support for the existence of important socioaffiliative and motivational deficits that may underpin the affective features of psychopathy and speak to the potential to target such mechanisms in interventions and treatments to reduce psychopathic traits.

Waller, R., Corbett, N., Raine, A, Wagner, N.J., Broussard, A., Edmonds, D., Reardon, S., Jones, C., Itkin-Ofer, M., Schell, T., & Neumann, C.S. (2020). Reduced Sensitivity to Affiliation and Psychopathic Traits. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, & Treatment, epub ahead of print. doi: 10.1037/per0000423