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Clin Psychol Rev. 2004 May;24(2):171-91.

Early caregiving and physiological stress responses.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Box 871104, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.


Inadequate early caregiving has been associated with risks of stress-related psychological and physical illness over the life span. Dysregulated physiological stress responses may represent a mechanism linking early caregiving to health outcomes. This paper reviews evidence linking early caregiving to physiological responses that can increase vulnerability to stress-related illness. A number of high-risk family characteristics, including high conflict, divorce, abuse, and parental psychopathology, are considered in the development of stress vulnerability. Three theoretical pathways linking caregiving to physiological stress responses are outlined: genetic, psychosocial, and cognitive-affective. Exciting preliminary evidence suggests that early caregiving can impact long-term physiological stress responses. Directions for future research in this area are suggested.

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