Are there biological programming effects for psychological development? Findings from a study of Romanian adoptees

Dev Psychol. 2004 Jan;40(1):81-94. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.40.1.81.


Associations between experiences and outcomes could be due to (a) continuation of adversity or (b) organismic changes, including experience-expectant and experience-adaptive developmental programming. The adoption into British families of children who had been reared in profoundly depriving institutions in Romania presented an opportunity to test mechanisms. Romanian children reared from infancy in very depriving institutions for periods up to 42 months were compared with 52 nondeprived UK-born children placed into adoptive families before the age of 6 months. The results at 6 years of age showed substantial normal cognitive and social functioning after the provision of family rearing but also major persistent deficits in a substantial minority. The pattern of findings suggests some form of early biological programming or neural damage stemming from institutional deprivation, but the heterogeneity in outcome indicates that the effects are not deterministic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adoption / psychology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Institutionalized / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Foster Home Care / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / diagnosis
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / psychology
  • Psychosocial Deprivation*
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Romania / ethnology
  • Social Environment
  • United Kingdom