Cumulative risk, maternal responsiveness, and allostatic load among young adolescents

Dev Psychol. 2007 Mar;43(2):341-51. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.2.341.


The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of cumulative risk exposure in concert with maternal responsiveness on physiological indicators of chronic stress in children and youth. Middle-school children exposed to greater accumulated psychosocial (e.g., family turmoil, poverty) and physical (e.g., crowding, substandard housing) risk factors manifested higher levels of allostatic load, a physiological marker of cumulative wear and tear on the body caused by the mobilization of multiple, physiological response systems. This effect was longitudinal, residualizing allostatic load 3-4 years earlier when the youth were in elementary school. This effect, however, occurred only among adolescents with mothers low in responsiveness. Cumulative risk was also associated with dynamic cardiovascular processes in response to an acute stressor (mental arithmetic). Higher risk was associated with muted reactivity and slower, less efficient recovery in blood pressure. These dynamic cardiovascular effects occurred irrespective of maternal responsiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Assessment
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*