Current Research

How Childhood Stress "Gets Under the Skin" to Affect Mental and Physical Health

Chronic stress in early childhood, such as the stress of poverty, abuse, neglect, or neighborhood violence, has been associated with poorer physical and mental health throughout the lifespan. I aim to shed light on how childhood stress affects health even years after experiencing the stressor. My work incorporates measures of cognition, behavior, socioemotional functioning, and biology, including measures of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the immune system, epigenetics, and cardiovascular function. With a better understanding of the mechanisms by which stress “gets under the skin” to affect our brains and our bodies, we can intervene at critical points in development to short-circuit these pathways and improve health.


How Social Support Buffers Individuals from Negative Effects of Stress


Having stable, supportive relationships is associated with better mental and physical health across development. This association between social support and health could be due to the power of supportive relationship figures to buffer individuals from stress, by increasing resources needed to cope with stress and decreasing the body’s response to stress. By lowering the body’s response to stress, the harmful effects of repeated increases in cortisol (a stress hormone) and other stress mediators might be reduced.

The goal of my research on social buffering is to find out which relationship figures can serve as a buffer from stress at different ages so that we can use this information to improve public health. Since many individuals begin to develop mental health problems starting in adolescence, I particularly want to find out whether difficulties with social buffering contribute to mental illness in adolescents. By finding out who can buffer stress for certain individuals and under what conditions social buffering is most effective, we can create interventions to help individuals at risk for mental and physical problems.


How Early Nutrition and Stress Impact Development

While we often think about the ways that parents, schools, and other factors like stress affect development, we do not always consider how nutrition can impact brain development. One arm of my research investigates how childhood nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency, which is especially prevalent in developing countries, can affect our mental and physical health. I also investigate how chronic stress interacts with nutrition to affect development, as there is evidence that stress interferes with nutrient absorption and might worsen nutritional deficiencies. More recently, I have become interested in how childhood over-nutrition, such as overweight and obesity, and behaviors that lead to over-nutrition, such as obesogenic diet and sedentary behavior, are influenced by life stress and stress biology. In the future, I aim to integrate the study of stress and nutrition in at-risk populations to identify targets for interventions that improve developmental outcomes for children who have experienced early psychosocial stress and over- or undernutrition.



2018 and in press

Doom, J.R., Richards, B., Caballero, G., Delva, J., Gahagan, S., & Lozoff, B. (2018). Infant iron deficiency and iron supplementation predict adolescent internalizing, externalizing, and social problems. Journal of Pediatrics, 195, 199-205. e2.

Doom, J.R., Cook, S.H., Sturza, J., Kaciroti, N., Gearhardt, A.N., Vazquez, D.M., Lumeng, J.C., & Miller, A.L. (2018). Family conflict, chaos, and negative life events predict cortisol activity in low-income children. Developmental Psychobiology, 60(4), 364-379.

Noroña, A., Doom, J.R., Davis, E.P., & Gunnar, M.R. (in press). The effects of early life stress on brain and behavioral development. In Rubenstein, J., & Rakic, P. (Eds.) Comprehensive Developmental Neuroscience (2nd ed.) Elsevier.

Julian, M.M., Rosenblum, K.L., Doom, J.R., Lumeng, J.C., Gómez Cruz, M., Vazquez, D.L., & Miller, A.L. (2018). Oxytocin and parenting behavior among low-income, low-stress vs. high-stress mothers. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 21(3), 375-382.

Doom, J.R., & Cicchetti, D. (in press). The developmental psychopathology of stress exposure in childhood. In Harkness, K., & Hayden, E.P. (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Stress and Mental Health. Oxford University Press.


Doom, J.R., Doyle, C.M., & Gunnar, M.R. (2017). Social stress buffering by friends in childhood and adolescence: Effects on HPA and oxytocin activity. Social Neuroscience, 12(1), 8-21.

Doom, J.R., Mason, S., Suglia, S.F., & Clark, C.J. (2017). Pathways between childhood/adolescent adversity, adolescent SES, and long-term cardiovascular disease risk in young adulthood. Social Science and Medicine, 188, 166-175.

Doom, J.R., Hazzard, V.M., Bauer, K.W., Clark, C.J., & Miller, A.L. (2017). Does striving to succeed come at a cardiovascular or psychosocial cost for adults who experienced child maltreatment? Development and Psychopathology, 29(5), 1905-1919.


Doom, J.R., Gunnar, M.R., & Clark, C.J. (2016). Maternal relationship during adolescence predicts cardiovascular disease risk in adulthood. Health Psychology, 35(4), 376-386.

Doom, J.R., VanZomeren-Dohm, A., & Simpson, J.A. (2016). Early unpredictability predicts increased adolescent externalizing behaviors and substance use: A life history perspective. Development and Psychopathology, 28(4), 1505-1516.

Esposito, E.A., Jones, M.J., Doom, J.R., MacIsaac, J.L., Gunnar, M.R., & Kobor, M.S. (2016). Differential DNA methylation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in adolescents adopted as young children from orphanages in Russia and Eastern Europe. Development and Psychopathology, 28(4), 1385-1389.

Doom, J.R., & Georgieff, M.K. (2016). Macronutrient deprivation: Biological mechanisms and effects on early neurodevelopment. In Hall Moran, V., & Lowe, N. (Eds.) Nutrition and the Developing Brain. CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group).

Doom, J.R., & Gunnar, M.R. (2016). Institutional care and neurobiological development in infancy. In A. Sale (Ed.): Environmental Experience and Plasticity of the Developing Brain. Wiley.


Doom, J.R., Hostinar, C.E., VanZomeren-Dohm, A.A., & Gunnar, M.R. (2015). The roles of puberty and age in explaining the diminished effectiveness of parental buffering of HPA reactivity and recovery in adolescence. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 59, 102-111.

Doom, J.R., Georgieff, M.K., & Gunnar, M.R. (2015). Institutional care and iron deficiency increase ADHD symptomology and lower IQ 2.5-5 years post-adoption. Developmental Science, 18(3), 484-494.

Doom, J.R., & Gunnar, M.R. (2015). Effects of stress on development during infancy and early childhood. In J.D. Wright (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 23, 577-582). Oxford: Elsevier.

Gunnar, M.R., Doom, J.R., & Esposito, E.A. (2015). Psychoneuroendocrinology of stress: Normative development and individual differences. In M.E. Lamb (ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology (3:4: 1-46). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


Doom, J.R., Cicchetti, D., & Rogosch, F.A. (2014). Longitudinal patterns of cortisol regulation differ in maltreated and nonmaltreated children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(11), 1206-1215.

Doom, J.R. & Georgieff, M.K. (2014). Striking while the iron is hot: Understanding the biological and neurodevelopmental effects of iron deficiency to optimize intervention in early childhood. Current Pediatrics Reports, 2, 291-298. doi: 10.1007/s40124-014-0058-4

Doom, J.R., Gunnar, M.R., Georgieff, M.K., Kroupina, M., Frenn, K.A, Fuglestad, A.J. & Carlson, S.M. (2014). Beyond stimulus deprivation: Iron deficiency and cognitive deficits in post-institutionalized children. Child Development, 85(5), 1805-12.


Doom, J.R., Cicchetti, D., Rogosch, F.A., & Dackis, M.N. (2013). Child maltreatment and gender interactions as predictors of differential neuroendocrine profiles. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38, 1442-1454. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.12.019

Doom, J.R., & Gunnar, M.R. (2013). Stress physiology and developmental psychopathology: Past, present and future. Development and Psychopathology, 25,1359-1373.

Doom, J.R., & Haeffel, G.J. (2013). Teasing apart the effects of cognition, stress, and depression on health. American Journal of Health Behavior, 37(5), 610-619.


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