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Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Volume I, Wellbeing in Children and Families by Cary L. Cooper, Susan H. Landry

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16

Early Life Stress and Neurobehavioral Development

Sarah Stellern and Megan R. Gunnar

University of Minnesota, U.S.A.

Physical and mental health outcomes as diverse as depression, anxiety, obesity, and substance abuse share at least one commonality—that they are often associated with adverse experiences in childhood (see for review, Shonkoff, Boyce, & McEwen, 2009). Epidemiological studies have documented this association, suggesting that familial and caregiving contexts may be especially important for later health and wellbeing. Evidence suggests that family environments that increase the risk of poor health outcomes are characterized by overt conflict, recurrent anger and aggression, and deficient nurturing (Repetti, Taylor, & Seeman, 2002). Numerous mechanisms likely are involved in transducing the impact of early experiences into impacts on neurobehavioral development and health. However, most models argue that stress physiology plays a role, both in producing the initial effects and, because early experiences may shape the regulation of these systems, in maintaining their effects over time (McEwen, 2008).

Stress is the body's response to challenges that pose a threat to wellbeing (Selye, 1975). These threats are termed stressors. Many stressors are physical and include everything from the body becoming too cold or too hot to the body being invaded by a pathogen or experiencing tissue damage (see for review, Gunnar & Vazquez, 2006). With development, we come to anticipate ...

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