To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Informed by the National Institute of Mental Health's Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) and developmental psychopathology frameworks, the current study used cortisol area under the curve with respect to ground (AUCg) as an index of differential sensitivity to context, which was expected to predispose young children with elevated vulnerability to adverse caregiving experiences and adaptive sensitivity to intervention effects. Particularly, the study aimed to determine whether improving caregivers’ responsive parenting through the Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) intervention would buffer children's biologically embedded vulnerability to caregivers’ depressive symptoms. Data were derived from a randomized controlled trial using pretest–posttest design with low-income families of children aged 4 to 36 months (N = 91). Young children's differential sensitivity was measured using cortisol AUCg during a structured stress paradigm. As hypothesized, children whose cortisol AUCg indicated greater sensitivity to social context exhibited more internalizing and externalizing behaviors in relation to caregivers’ elevated depressive symptoms. Critically, the intervention program was effective in attenuating psychopathology symptoms among the more biologically sensitive children. As proven by rigorous statistical tests, the findings of this study partially supported the differential susceptibility hypotheses, indicating both greater vulnerability to adverse conditions and responsiveness to intervention among children with high levels of cortisol AUCg.
Megan Gunnar's pubertal stress recalibration hypothesis was supported in a recent study of previously institutionalized (PI) youth such that increases in pubertal stage were associated with increases in cortisol stress reactivity. This work provides evidence that puberty may open up a window of recalibration for PI youth, resulting in a shift from a blunted to a more typical cortisol stress response. Using the same sample (N = 132), the current study aimed to elucidate whether increases in cortisol are associated with increases in adaptive functioning or whether they further underlie potential links to developmental psychopathology. Specifically, we examined the bidirectional associations between cortisol stress reactivity and both internalizing and externalizing symptoms across three timepoints during the pubertal period. Youth reported on their own internalizing symptoms and parents reported on youths’ externalizing symptoms. Cortisol reactivity was assessed during the Trier social stress test. Analyses revealed no associations between cortisol reactivity and externalizing symptoms across puberty for PI youth. However, longitudinal bidirectional associations did emerge for internalizing symptoms such that increases in cortisol reactivity predicted increases in internalizing symptoms and increases in internalizing symptoms predicted increases in cortisol reactivity. Findings suggest that recalibrating to more normative levels of cortisol reactivity may not always be associated with adaptive outcomes for PI youth.
Understanding individual differences in neural responses to stressful environments is an important avenue of research throughout development. These differences may be especially critical during adolescence, which is characterized by opportunities for healthy development and increased susceptibility to the development of psychopathology. While the neural correlates of the psychosocial stress response have been investigated in adults, these links have not been explored during development. Using a new task, the Minnesota Imaging Stress Test in Children (MISTiC), differences in activation are found in fusiform gyrus, superior frontal gyrus, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex when comparing a stressful math task to a nonstressful math task. The MISTiC task successfully elicits cortisol responses in a similar proportion of adolescents as in behavioral studies while collecting brain imaging data. Cortisol responders and nonresponders did not differ in their perceived stress level or behavioral performance during the task despite differences in neuroendocrine function. Future research will be able to leverage the MISTiC task for many purposes, including probing associations between individual differences in stress responses with environmental conditions, personality differences, and the development of psychopathology.
Stressful experiences affect biological stress systems, such as the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. Life stress can potentially alter regulation of the HPA axis and has been associated with poorer physical and mental health. Little, however, is known about the relative influence of stressors that are encountered at different developmental periods on acute stress reactions in adulthood. In this study, we explored three models of the influence of stress exposure on cortisol reactivity to a modified version of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) by leveraging 37 years of longitudinal data in a high-risk birth cohort (N = 112). The cumulative stress model suggests that accumulated stress across the lifespan leads to dysregulated reactivity, whereas the biological embedding model implicates early childhood as a critical period. The sensitization model assumes that dysregulation should only occur when stress is high in both early childhood and concurrently. All of the models predicted altered reactivity, but do not anticipate its exact form. We found support for both cumulative and biological embedding effects. However, when pitted against each other, early life stress predicted more blunted cortisol responses at age 37 over and above cumulative life stress. Additional analyses revealed that stress exposure in middle childhood also predicted more blunted cortisol reactivity.
Children reared in orphanages typically experience the lack of stable, reliable caregivers and are at increased risk for deficits in regulatory abilities including difficulties in inhibitory control, attention, and emotion regulation. Although adoption results in a radical shift in caregiving quality, there remains variation in postadoption parenting, yet little research has examined postadoption parenting that may promote recovery in children experiencing early life adversity in the form of institutional care. Participants included 93 postinstitutionalized children adopted between 15 and 36 months of age and 52 nonadopted same-aged peers. Parenting was assessed four times during the first 2 years postadoption (at 2, 8, 16, and 24 months postadoption) and children's regulation was assessed at age 5 (M age = 61.68 months) and during kindergarten (M age = 71.55 months). Multiple parenting dimensions including sensitivity/responsiveness, structure/limit setting, and consistency in routines were examined. Both parental sensitivity and structure moderated the effect of preadoption adversity on children's emotion regulation while greater consistency was associated with better inhibitory control and fewer attention problems. Results support the notion that postadoption parenting during toddlerhood and the early preschool years promotes better regulation skills following early adversity.
Although many children adopted internationally show remarkable recovery once placed in families, as a group they continue to exhibit persisting developmental deficits and delays in self-regulation. The current study uses a stratified, randomized, controlled trial to evaluate the effects of mindfulness-based and executive function trainings (EFTs) on internationally adopted (IA) children's self-regulation, including effortful/inhibitory control, attention, delay of gratification, and emotion-regulation. IA children ages 6–10 years were randomized into mindfulness training (MT), EFT, or no intervention (NI) groups. The MT and EFT groups attended 12 one-hour group sessions. Ninety-six children (MT, n = 33; EFT, n = 32; NI, n = 31) completed the study and were tested on computerized and non-computerized measures of self-regulation. Compared with the NI group, the MT group improved delay of gratification, and the EFT group improved inhibitory control and selective attention. There was no effect of either intervention on emotion regulation. MTs and EFTs show promise for improving self-regulation in IA children.
There is now a clear focus on incorporating, and integrating, multiple levels of analysis in developmental science. The current study adds to research in this area by including markers of the immune and neuroendocrine systems in a longitudinal study of temperament in infants. Observational and parent-reported ratings of infant temperament, serum markers of the innate immune system, and cortisol reactivity from repeated salivary collections were examined in a sample of 123 infants who were assessed at 6 months and again when they were, on average, 17 months old. Blood from venipuncture was collected for analyses of nine select innate immune cytokines; salivary cortisol collected prior to and 15 min and 30 min following a physical exam including blood draw was used as an index of neuroendocrine functioning. Analyses indicated fairly minimal significant associations between biological markers and temperament at 6 months. However, by 17 months of age, we found reliable and nonoverlapping associations between observed fearful temperament and biological markers of the immune and neuroendocrine systems. The findings provide some of the earliest evidence of robust biological correlates of fear behavior with the immune system, and identify possible immune and neuroendocrine mechanisms for understanding the origins of behavioral development.
Internationally adopted adolescents who are adopted as young children from conditions of poverty and deprivation have poorer physical and mental health outcomes than do adolescents conceived, born, and raised in the United States by families similar to those who adopt internationally. Using a sample of Russian and Eastern European adoptees to control for Caucasian race and US birth, and nonadopted offspring of well-educated and well-resourced parents to control for postadoption conditions, we hypothesized that the important differences in environments, conception to adoption, might be reflected in epigenetic patterns between groups, specifically in DNA methylation. Thus, we conducted an epigenome-wide association study to compare DNA methylation profiles at approximately 416,000 individual CpG loci from peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 50 adopted youth and 33 nonadopted youth. Adopted youth averaged 22 months at adoption, and both groups averaged 15 years at testing; thus, roughly 80% of their lives were lived in similar circumstances. Although concurrent physical health did not differ, cell-type composition predicted using the DNA methylation data revealed a striking difference in the white blood cell-type composition of the adopted and nonadopted youth. After correcting for cell type and removing invariant probes, 30 CpG sites in 19 genes were more methylated in the adopted group. We also used an exploratory functional analysis that revealed that 223 gene ontology terms, clustered in neural and developmental categories, were significantly enriched between groups.
Internationally adopted postinstitutionalized (PI) children are at risk for lower levels of emotion understanding. This study examined how postadoption parenting influences emotion understanding and whether lower levels of emotion understanding are associated with behavior problems. Emotion understanding and parent mental state language were assessed in 3-year-old internationally adopted PI children (N = 25), and comparison groups of children internationally adopted from foster care (N = 25) and nonadopted (NA) children (N = 36). At 5.5-year follow-up, PI children had lower levels of emotion understanding than NA children, a group difference not explained by language. In the total sample, parent mental state language at age 3 years predicted 5.5-year emotion understanding after controlling for child language ability. The association of parent mental state language and 5.5-year emotion understanding was moderated by adoption status, such that parent mental state language predicted 5.5-year emotion understanding for the internationally adopted children, but not for the NA children. While postadoption experience does not erase negative effects of early deprivation on emotion understanding, results suggest that parents can promote emotion understanding development through mental state talk. At 5.5 years, PI children had more internalizing and externalizing problems than NA children, and these behavioral problems related to lower levels of emotion understanding.
The most commonly reported socially aberrant behavior in postinstitutionalized (PI) children is disinhibited social engagement (DSE; also known as indiscriminate friendliness). There is no gold standard for measurement of this phenomenon nor agreement on how to differentiate it from normative behavior. We adopted a developmental psychopathology approach (Cicchetti, 1984) to study this phenomenon by comparing it to normative social development and by studying its patterns over time in 50 newly adopted PI children (16–36 months at adoption) compared with 41 children adopted early from foster care overseas and 47 nonadopted (NA) controls. Using coded behavioral observations of the child's interaction with an unfamiliar adult, atypical behaviors were differentiated from normative behaviors. Principal components analysis identified two dimensions of social disinhibition. The nonphysical social dimension (e.g., initiations, proximity) showed wide variation in NA children and is therefore considered a typical form of sociability. Displays of physical contact and intimacy were rare in NA children, suggesting that they represent an atypical pattern of behavior. Both adopted groups demonstrated more physical DSE behavior than NA children. There were no group differences on the nonphysical factor, and it increased over time in all groups. Implications for understanding the etiology of DSE and future directions are discussed.
This study examined the formation and quality of attachment of 65 postinstitutionalized (PI) toddlers with their parents at 1–3 and 7–9 months postadoption compared to 52 nonadopted (NA) children. The formation of attachment relationships of PI children with adoptive parents occurred relatively quickly. Children exposed to greater preadoption adversity took longer to form an attachment to their adoptive parents, although by 7–9 months postadoption, nearly all (90%) of the children achieved the highest level on an attachment formation rating scale. PI children did not differ from NA children in attachment security, based either on the Attachment Q-Sort or Strange Situation categorical scoring. However, the PI children were more likely to be disorganized in their attachment patterns. Preadoption adversity was related to lower Q-sort security scores especially at the initial assessment 1–3 months postadoption. The results indicated that attachment formation and attachment quality in PI children are differentiable constructs with different precursors.
Research on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis has emerged as a vital area within the field of developmental psychopathology in the past 25 years. Extensive animal research has provided knowledge of the substrates and physiological mechanisms that guide development of stress reactivity and regulation using methods that are not feasible in humans. Recent advances in understanding the anatomy and physiology of the HPA axis in humans and its interactions with other stress-mediating systems, including accurate assessment of salivary cortisol, more sophisticated neuroimaging methods, and a variety of genetic analyses, have led to greater knowledge of how psychological and biological processes impact functioning. A growing body of research on HPA axis regulation and reactivity in relation to psychopathology has drawn increased focus on the prenatal period, infancy, and the pubertal transition as potentially sensitive periods of stress system development in children. Theories such as the allostatic load model have guided research by integrating multiple physiological systems and mechanisms by which stress can affect mental and physical health. However, almost none of the prominent theoretical models in stress physiology are truly developmental, and future work must incorporate how systems interact with the environment across the life span in normal and atypical development. Our theoretical advancement will depend on our ability to integrate biological and psychological models. Researchers are increasingly realizing the importance of communication across disciplinary boundaries in order to understand how experiences influence neurobehavioral development. It is important that knowledge gained over the past 25 years has been translated to prevention and treatment interventions, and we look forward to the dissemination of interventions that promote recovery from adversity.
Adverse early care is associated with attention regulatory problems, but not all so exposed develop attention problems. In a sample of 612 youth (girls = 432, M = 11.82 years, SD = 1.5) adopted from institutions (e.g., orphanages) in 25 countries, we examined whether the Val66Met polymorphism of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene moderates attention problems associated with the duration of institutional care. Parent-reported attention problem symptoms were collected using the MacArthur Health and Behavior Questionnaire. DNA was genotyped for the brain-derived neurotrophic factor Val66Met (rs6265) single nucleotide polymorphism. Among youth from Southeast (SE) Asia, the predominant genotype was valine/methionine (Val/Met), whereas among youth from Russia/Europe and Caribbean/South America, the predominant genotype was Val/Val. For analysis, youth were grouped as carrying Val/Val or Met/Met alleles. Being female, being from SE Asia, and being younger when adopted were associated with fewer attention regulatory problem symptoms. Youth carrying at least one copy of the Met allele were more sensitive to the duration of deprivation, yielding an interaction that followed a differential susceptibility pattern. Thus, youth with Val/Met or Met/Met genotypes exhibited fewer symptoms than Val/Val genotypes when adoption was very early and more symptoms when adoption occurred later in development. Similar patterns were observed when SE Asian youth and youth from other parts of the world were analyzed separately.
Children adopted from institutions (e.g., orphanages) overseas are at increased risk of disturbances in social relationships and social understanding. Not all postinstitutionalized children exhibit these problems, although factors like the severity of deprivation and duration of deprivation increase their risk. To date, few studies have examined whether postadoption parenting might moderate the impact of early adverse care. Three groups were studied: postinstitutionalized and foster care children both adopted internationally and nonadopted children reared in their families of origin. The Emotional Availability (EA) Scales were assessed at 18 months in parent–child dyads. Parent emotional availability was found to predict two aspects of social functioning shown in previous studies to be impaired in postinstitutionalized children. Specifically, EA positively correlated with emotion understanding at 36 months; in interaction with initiation of joint attention at 18 months and group, it predicted indiscriminate friendliness as scored from a parent attachment interview at 30 months. Among the postinstitutionalized children but not among the children in other groups, higher EA scores reduced the negative association between initiation of joint attention and indiscriminate friendliness, thus suggesting that parenting quality may moderate the effects of early institutional deprivation.
The goal of this study was to examine whether growth delay can serve as an index of allostatic load during early development, as it is well known that the activity of stress-mediating systems inhibits growth. The participants were children adopted internationally from institutional care (n = 36), children adopted internationally from foster care (n = 26), and nonadopted children (n = 35). For the adopted children, height for age and weight for height were assessed at adoption; for all children, disinhibited social approach (DSA; termed elsewhere as “indiscriminate friendliness”) and diurnal cortisol were assessed at 6–8 years (M = 6.9 years). For internationally adopted children in general, and postinstitutionalized children specifically, linear growth delay assessed at the time of adoption was associated with more dysregulated behavior in response to an unfamiliar adult (i.e., greater DSA) and a more dysregulated diurnal cortisol rhythm (i.e., higher late afternoon and evening values). Further, among the most growth-delayed children, higher cortisol levels later in the day were correlated with DSA. The potential for using growth delay as an allostatic load indicator and the possible problems and limitations in its use in child populations are discussed.
Since the work of Hans Selye (1973), the idea that stress can be detrimental to health has become common knowledge. Less commonly known is the evidence that stress may have detrimental effects on development (De Bellis, 2001; Gunnar & Vazquez, 2006; Heim, Plotsky, & Nemeroff, 2004). In this chapter, we describe what is known about the physiology of stress and its potential influence on young children. We then turn to studies of human development to examine the ways that stress is regulated early in life and the evidence that the stress system is responsive to adverse conditions during infancy and early childhood.
Stress results when demands exceed immediately available resources (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). These demands may be physical or psychological. Regardless, the imbalance in demands and resources requires that resources need to be found to meet the demands (Gunnar, 2000). These resources may be external, such as the help and support provided by parents and friends, or internal, such as a novel solution to a problem. Obtaining resources requires energy. Finding the energy needed for action and tuning the brain and body to meet the demands of the moment are the jobs of the stress system (Sapolsky, 1994). The stress system finds the energy we need to deal with immediate demands by putting future-oriented processes on hold. If there is an immediate threat to our survival, we do not need to put energy into fighting off a virus, digesting our lunch, or growing an extra inch.