Biological Sensitivity to the Effects of Childhood Family Adversity on Psychological Well-Being in Young Adulthood

Jennifer A. Somers, Mariam Hanna Ibrahim, Linda Luecken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations


The theory of biological sensitivity to context may inform our understanding of why some children exposed to family adversity develop mental health problems in emerging adulthood whereas others demonstrate resilience. This study investigated the interactive effects of heart rate (HR) reactivity and childhood family adversity (maltreatment and changes in family structure) on depressive symptoms and positive affect among 150 undergraduate students (18–28 years old; 77% White, non-Hispanic; 61% female). Participants reported on childhood parental divorce or death, and child maltreatment, and current depressive symptoms and positive affect. HR reactivity was assessed in response to a laboratory interpersonal stressor. HR reactivity moderated the effects of child maltreatment on depressive symptoms and positive affect; higher maltreatment was associated with more depressive symptoms and less positive affect, but only among those with average and higher levels of HR reactivity. Results suggest that higher physiological reactivity may confer greater susceptibility to environmental contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-244
Number of pages9
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017



  • child maltreatment
  • depression
  • physiological processes
  • resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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