Poverty, Stress, and Autonomic Reactivity

Abbey Alkon, Brian Wolff and W. Thomas Boyce

in The Oxford Handbook of Poverty and Child Development

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199769100
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Poverty, Stress, and Autonomic Reactivity


This chapter discusses the relations between childhood adversity and autonomic nervous system measures. It begins with a discussion on poverty and adverse experiences early in life and then reviews autonomic nervous system (ANS) measures of children's basal and stress responses, the history of the ANS field, and ANS methodological developments. Two important theories about ANS are discussed: (1) biological embedding and how early experiences can fundamentally alter ANS regulation, and (2) biological sensitivity to context, which explains how children's psychobiological responses differ based on the child's exposure to adversity. Lastly, there is a summary of studies of early childhood on ANS as a mediator or moderator of the relations between poverty-related adverse conditions and mental or physical health. This chapter concludes with a discussion of future directions to address methodological gaps in the literature examining associations among poverty-related stress and adversity, ANS dysregulation, and physical and mental health outcomes.

Keywords: children; health; poverty; adversity; psychobiology; autonomic nervous system

Article.  13304 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Developmental Psychology

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