Parental responsiveness moderates the association between early-life stress and reduced telomere length

Dev Psychopathol. 2013 Aug;25(3):577-585. doi: 10.1017/S0954579413000011. Epub 2013 Mar 26.


Early-life stress, such as maltreatment, institutionalization, and exposure to violence, is associated with accelerated telomere shortening. Telomere shortening may thus represent a biomarker of early adversity. Previous studies have suggested that responsive parenting may protect children from the negative biological and behavioral consequences of early adversity. This study examined the role of parental responsiveness in buffering children from telomere shortening following experiences of early-life stress. We found that high-risk children had significantly shorter telomeres than low-risk children, controlling for household income, birth weight, gender, and minority status. Further, parental responsiveness moderated the association between risk and telomere length, with more responsive parenting associated with longer telomeres only among high-risk children. These findings suggest that responsive parenting may have protective benefits on telomere shortening for young children exposed to early-life stress. Therefore, this study has important implications for early parenting interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / genetics*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Telomere Shortening*