Pathways Linking Early Life Stress to Adult Health

Shelley E. Taylor

in The Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780195342161
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Pathways Linking Early Life Stress to Adult Health

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Social Psychology


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This chapter presents a developmental model of responses to early life stress that integrates sociodemographic, genetic, psychosocial, neural, physiological, and health-related evidence concerning the pathways that may explain the often surprisingly strong relations between stress in early life and adult health. Genetic predispositions and aspects of the early environment are represented as joint predictors of the ability to develop psychosocial resources. Early life stress is known to compromise: emotion regulation; coping skills; the ability to make effective use of social support; individual differences in psychological resources; and chronic negative emotional states. These psychosocial factors, in turn, influence and are influenced by neural responses to threat in the brain that regulate autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune responses to threatening circumstances. The cumulative impact of these inputs ultimately influences health risks. In addition, there are direct paths from genes and the early environment to compromised physiological functioning that do not route through psychosocial resources.

Keywords: early life stress; adult health; genetic predispositions; health risk; early environment

Article.  7421 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Social Psychology

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