Adrenocortical Responses to Daily Stressors Are Calibrated by Early Life Adversity: An Investigation of the Adaptive Calibration Model

Joseph A. Schwartz, Jessica L. Calvi, Samantha L. Allen, Douglas A. Granger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Studies examining the impact of early adversity on physiological responsivity to environmental challenges in later life yield a complex pattern of findings and ambiguity regarding the direction of effect, with some studies reporting heightened responses and others reporting dampened responses. One potential reason for these mixed findings is an oversimplified theoretical model surrounding the connection between early life stressor exposure and subsequent stress responsivity. The adaptive calibration model offersa contemporary set of assumptions aimed at providing a better understanding of the ways that early life experiences shape the stress response system to better align with current and future environments. The current study utilized a large subsample from the National Study of Daily Experiences (N = 1,605) to examine the extent to which the association between daily stressor exposure and cortisol levels varies across levels of early life adversity. Results revealed that those individuals who experienced extremely low levels of early life adversity displayed the greatest increase in cortisol levels across the day as daily stressor exposure increased. Alternatively, those individuals who experienced extremely high levels of early life adversity displayed almost no change in diurnal production of cortisol as daily stressor exposure increased. The results are discussed within the evolutionary-developmental context of the adaptive calibration model along with suggestions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Volume21
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2023

Keywords

  • adaptive calibration model
  • adverse childhood experiences
  • cortisol
  • early life adversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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