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Megan R Gunnar

Department Chair, Director of the Institute, Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor
Ph.D., 1978, Stanford University

Inst Of Child Dev
184 Ch Dev

51 E River Rd

Effects of early adverse care on brain and behavioral development; Stress neurobiology and development.

Human Developmental Psychobiology Lab

My lab studies how children and adolescents regulate stress and emotions. Two issues currently motivate most of our work. First, we know that during infancy and childhood attachment relationships are powerful regulators of the child’s stress system.  Regulation of the stress system by the parent-child attachment relationships appears to be “lost” in adolescence. We are testing whether this happens in relation to puberty or to psychosocial changes occurring over the adolescent period. We also plan to examine whether friendships and/or romantic relationships take over the stress-buffering role during the adolescent years, and if so, whether this helps explain heightened vulnerability to stress-related emotional disorders for youth who suffer from poorer peer relations. Second we have found that children who did not have the opportunity to form stable attachment relationships early in life (i.e., those adopted from orphanages) also fail to be able to use the parent-child relationship to regulate stress during childhood.  Such children also show atypical patterns of stress activity in anticipation of threat. However, for these children puberty, being a period of heightened neural plasticity may open a window of opportunity to recalibrate the stress system. Thus we are examining the role of puberty in interaction with current psychosocial stress conditions in shaping stress reactivity and regulation in both youth with a history of deprived care  (orphanage-adopted children) and children reared in their families of origin. 

Selected Publications

  1. Gunnar, M.R., Doom, J., & Esposito, E. (2015). Psychoneuroendocrinology of Stress: Normative Development and Individual Differences. In Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science, 7th Edition. R. Lerner, Editor in-Chief, Volume 3: Socioemotional Processes. M. Lamb and C. Garcia Coll, Ed. New York: Wiley.

    Koss, K.J., Mliner, S.B., Donzella, B., & Gunnar, M.R. (2015). Early adversity, hypocortisolism and behavior problems at school entry: A study of internationally adopted children. Psychoneuroendocrinology 21;66:31-38

    Esposito., E.A., Jones, M.J., Doom, J.R., MacIsaac, J.L., Gunnar, M.R., & Kobor, M.S. (2016). Differential DNA Methylation of Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells in Adolescents Adopted as Young Children from Orphanages in Russia and Eastern Europe. Development and Psychopathology. 5:1-15

    Esposito, .E.A., Koss, K.J., Donzella, B. & Gunnar, M.R. (2016). Early deprivation and autonomic nervous system functioning in post-institutionalized children. Developmental Psychobiology, e-pub ahead of print.

    Pitula, C.E., Wenner, J.A., Gunnar, M.R. & Thomas, K.M. (2016). To Trust or Not to Trust: Social Decision Making in Post-institutionalized, Internationally Adopted Youth. Developmental Science, e-pub a head of print.

    Doom, J.R., Doyle, C.M., & Gunnar, M.R. (2016). Social stress buffering by friends in childhood and adolescence: Effects on HPA and oxytocin activity. Social Neuroscience, 25: 1-14.

    Gunnar, M.R. & Sullivan, R.M. (2016) The neurodevelopment of social buffering and fear learning: Integration and crosstalk. Social Neuroscience, e-pub ahead of print.

    Lawler, J.M., Koss, K.J., Doyle, C.M., & Gunnar, M.R. (2016). The course of early disinhibited social engagement among post-institutionalized adopted children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 57(10):1126-34