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. Johnson, A.E., Bruce, J., Tarullo, A.R., & Gunnar, M.R. (2011). Growth delay as an index of allostatic load in young children: Predictions to disinhibited social approach and diurnal cortisol activity. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 859-71.

    van IJzendoorn, M.H., Palacios, J.,  Sonuga-Barke, E.J.S. , Gunnar, M.R., Vorria, P., McCall, R.B., LeMare, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J. , Dobrova-Krol, N.A., & Juffer, F. (2011). Children in institutions: Delayed development and resilience. In R. B. McCall, M. H. van IJzendoorn, F. Juffer, C. J. Groark, and V. K. Groza (Eds.), Children without permanent parents: Research, practice, and policy. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 76 (4), 8-30. 

    Russ, S., Herbert, J., Cooper, P., Gunnar, M.R., Goodyer, I, Croudace, T., & Murray, L. (2012). Cortisol levels in response to starting school in children ‘at risk’ for social phobia. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 37, 462-474.

    Quevedo, K., Johnson, A., Loman, M., Lafavor, T., & Gunnar, M.R. (2012). The confluence of early deprivation and puberty on the cortisol awakening response: A study of post-institutionalized children. Invited Paper in Fox (Ed) Special Issue. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 36 (1), 19-38.

    Garvin, M.C., Tarullo, A.R., Van Ryzin, M., Gunnar, M.R. (2012). Post-adoption parenting and Socioemotional development in  post-institutionalized children. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 35-48.

    Gunnar, M.R, & Adam, E.K. (2012). What can neuroendocrine measures reveal about emotion? In Dennis, T.A., Buss, K.A., & Hasting, P. D. (Eds). Physiological Measures of Emotion from a Developmental Perspective: State of the Science. Society for Research in Child Development Monograph

    Gunnar, M.R., Wenner, J.A., Thomas, K.M., Glatt, C.E., Morgan, M.C. & Clark, A.G. (2012). The BDNF Val66Met polymorphism moderates early deprivation effects on attention problems. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 1215-1223.

    Hostinar, C.E., Stellern, S.A., Schaefer, C., Carlson, S.M., Gunnar, M.R. (2012).  Associations between early life adversity and executive function in children adopted internationally from orphanages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109 Suppl 2:17208-12.

    Loman, M.M., Johnson, A.E., Westerlund, A., Pollak, S.D., Nelson, C.A.,  & Gunnar, M.R. (2013). The effect of early deprivation on executive attention in middle childhood.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54: 37-45.

    Bruce, J., Gunnar, M. R., Pears, K. C., & Fisher, P. A. (2013). Early adverse care, stress neurobiology, and Prevention science: Lessons learned. Prevention Science, 14, 247–256. 

    Hostinar, C.E., Sullivan R., & Gunnar, M.R. (2013). Psychobiological mechanisms underlying the social buffering of stress:  A review of animal models and human studies across development. Psychological Bulletin. e-pub a head of print. 

    Hostinar, C.E. & Gunnar, M.R. (2013). Future directions in the study of social relationships as stress regulators across development. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 42(4):564-75.