skip to navigation skip to content
For Students, Faculty, and Staff: MyU One Stop



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 become less effective in adolescence. Furthermore, this shift in effectiveness is associated more with pubertal stage than age, and we find that friends do not simply take over for parents as social buffers of stress. We are currently working on an imaging paradigm to help us explore how the changes in social buffering during the peripubertal period relate to changes in brain activation patterns during stressors.

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. (2016). Early life stress: What is the human chapter of the mammalian story? Child Development Perspectives, 10: 178-183.

    Lawler, J., Koss, K., & Gunnar, M.R. (in press). Bidirectional effects of parenting and child behavior in internationally-adopting families. Journal of Family Psychology. 31(5):563-573.

    Reid, B., Miller, B., Dorn, L., Desjardins, C., Donzella, B., & Gunnar, M. R. (2017). Early-growth faltering in post institutionalized youth and later anthropometric and pubertal development. Pediatric Research. 82(2):278-284.

    Gunnar, M.R. (2017). Social buffering of stress in development: A career perspective. Perspectives in Psychological Science. 12 (3), 255-273.

    Koss, K.J., & Gunnar, M.R. (in press). Annual Research Review: Early adversity, the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical axis, and child psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

    Pitula, C.E., De Pasquale, C.E., Mliner, S. B. & Gunnar, M.R. (in press). Peer problems among post institutionalized, internationally-adopted Children: Relations to hypocorticolism, parenting quality, and ADHD symptoms. Child Development.