Publications

2022

Gamache, J., Herd, T., Allen, J., King-Casas, B., & Kim-Spoon, J. (2022).

Longitudinal Associations between Social Relationships and Alcohol Use from Adolescence into Young Adulthood: The Role of Religiousness

. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 51(9), 1798-1814.

As adolescence is a time characterized by rapid changes in social relationships as well as an increase in risk-taking behaviors, this prospective longitudinal study examined whether social involvement and social alienation are associated with changes in alcohol use from adolescence into young adulthood moderated by organizational and personal religiousness. Participants were 167 adolescents (53% male) assessed five times between ages 14 and 18 years old. Latent change score modeling analyses indicated that social alienation was positively associated with greater increases in alcohol use among those with low organizational religiousness and those with low personal religiousness in early adolescence and during the transition into young adulthood. The findings demonstrate the detrimental effects of social relationship risk factors that promote alcohol use during adolescence into young adulthood. The results further highlight the protective roles of organizational and personal religiousness acting as additional sources of social engagement experiences to modulate the effects of social alienation predicting alcohol use progression and provide evidence for the positive impact religiousness has on healthy adolescent development.

Szwedo, D. E., Stern, J. A., Kansky, J., Lis, E., & Allen, J. P. (2022). Parent and romantic partner behaviors during adolescence as predictors of young adult positive personality, relational competence, and functional independence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 51, 1926-1943.

Experiences with parents and romantic partners during adolescence are theorized to have long-term effects on youth development. However, little research has empirically examined the relative contributions of experiences in each type of relationship at different points during adolescence to positive development in young adulthood. The goal of the present study was to predict relative changes in youth positive personality characteristics, relational competence, and functional independence during young adulthood from specific behaviors experienced from parents and romantic partners during early and late adolescence. A diverse community sample of 147 individuals (59 males, 88 females) from the southeastern United States was repeatedly assessed across a 14-year period from age 13 to age 27. As hypothesized, parental acceptance and successful parental positive influence behavior toward adolescents at age 13 predicted relative increases in positive personality traits (e.g., agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability) between ages 23 and 27. These same parental behaviors measured at age 18 were less robust predictors of key outcomes relative to similar qualities of romantic relationships. Instead, romantic behaviors of toleration and appreciation at age 18 predicted relative increases in functional independence and relational competence between ages 23 and 27 (e.g., attachment closeness, reliable alliance, nurturance, and functional independence). Results suggest that parents’ successful efforts to positively influence and accept their children during early adolescence may lay a foundation for future positive personality growth, and that similar positive behaviors experienced in late adolescent romantic relationships may help prepare youth to develop broader supportive social relationships and independence skills in young adulthood.

Costello, M. A., Nagel, A. G., Hunt, G. L., & Allen, J. P. (2022).

Randomized Evaluation of an Intervention to Enhance a Sense of Belongingness among Entering College Students

. College Student Affairs Journal, 40(1), 66-76.

This study examined an intervention designed to improve sense of belongingness for new
students at a medium-sized, four-year, public university in the Eastern United States. A
randomized controlled trial was used to assess the impact of The Connection Project, a novel, 9-
session intervention in a sample of 128 first-year students (77 treatment, 48 waitlist control).
Given the onset of COVID-19, students received a hybrid in-person/online intervention. At post-
intervention, the intervention group reported a significantly higher sense of school
belongingness, after accounting for baseline levels, than control group students. Post-hoc
analyses of moderation by demographic variables indicate that the intervention functioned
similarly for students from a variety of backgrounds in this sample. These results are interpreted
as suggesting the potential value of this intervention to promote a sense of community and
connection among new students in college, whether delivered in-person or online.

2021

Allen, J. P., Danoff, J. S., Costello, M. A., Hunt, G. L., Hellwig, A. F., Krol, K. M., et al. (2021).

Lifetime marijuana use and epigenetic age acceleration: A 17-year prospective examination

. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 233.

Aims

This study was designed to assess links between lifetime levels of marijuana use and accelerated epigenetic aging.

Design

Prospective longitudinal study, following participants annually from age 13 to age 30.

Setting and participants

A community sample of 154 participants recruited from a small city in the Southeastern United States.

Measurements

Participants completed annual assessments of marijuana use from age 13 to age 29 and provided blood samples that yielded two indices of epigenetic aging (DNAmGrimAge and DunedinPoAm) at age 30. Additional covariates examined included history of cigarette smoking, anxiety and depressive symptoms, childhood illness, gender, adolescent-era family income, and racial/ethnic minority status.

Findings

Lifetime marijuana use predicted accelerated epigenetic aging, with effects remaining even after covarying cell counts, demographic factors and chronological age (β’s = 0.32 & 0.27, p’s < 0.001, 95% CI’s = 0.21–0.43 & 0.16–0.39 for DNAmGrimAge and DunedinPoAm, respectively). Predictions remained after accounting for cigarette smoking (β’s = 0.25 & 0.21, respectively, p’s < 0.001, 95% CI’s = 0.14–0.37 & 0.09–0.32 for DNAmGrimAge and DunedinPoAm, respectively). A dose-response effect was observed and there was also evidence that effects were dependent upon recency of use. Effects of marijuana use appeared to be fully mediated by hypomethylation of a site linked to effects of hydrocarbon inhalation (cg05575921).

Conclusions

Marijuana use predicted epigenetic changes linked to accelerated aging, with evidence suggesting that effects may be primarily due to hydrocarbon inhalation among marijuana smokers. Further research is warranted to explore mechanisms underlying this linkage.

Gonzalez, M. Z., Coppola, A. M., Allen, J. P., & Coan, J. (2021).

Yielding to social presence as a bioenergetic strategy: Preliminary evidence using fMRI

. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, 2.

All life must strategically conserve and allocate resources in order to meet the challenges of living. Social Baseline Theory suggests that, for humans, social context and the social resources therein are a central ecology in human phylogeny. In ontogeny, this manifests in flexible bioenergetic strategies that vary in the population based on social history. We introduce yielding, a conservation process wherein we relax physiological investment in response to a challenge when in the presence of a relational partner. The availability of these conserved resources then impact response to subsequent challenges while alone and if this pattern is habitual, it can reciprocally influence strategies used to solve or cope with typical stress. We discuss neural targets of this resource conservation and reframe our lab's previous studies on the social regulation of neural threat responding within this framework. We then show functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data indicating the presence of relational partners decreases blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) response to threat in key targets of resource conservation (e.g., dlPFC, dACC, and insula) and that stronger signal reduction in these areas coincide with less BOLD in pre-frontal (dlPFC. vmPFC) and visuo-sensory integration (occipital cortex, precuneus, superior parietal lobule) regions during ostracism. Finally, we show that these neural relationships are associated with less use of self-regulation-based coping strategies two years post scanning. Taken together, we show the utility of yielding both as a concept and as a bioenergetic process which helps to conserve energy in this social primate.

Gonzalez, M. Z., Wroblewski, K. L., Allen, J. P., Coan, J. A., & Connelly, J. J. (2021). OXTR DNA Methylation Moderates the Developmental Calibration of Neural Reward Sensitivity. Developmental Psychobiology.

The Adaptive Calibration Model of Stress Responsivity (ACM) suggests that developmental experiences predictably tune biological systems to meet the demands of the environment. Particularly important is the calibration of reward systems. Using a longitudinal sample (N = 184) followed since adolescence, this study models the dimensions of early life stress and their effects on epigenetic modification of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) and individual differences in neural response to reward anticipation. We first created a latent variable model of developmental context using measures collected when participants were 13 years old. As adults, two subsets of participants completed a reward anticipation fMRI paradigm (N = 82) and agreed to have their blood assayed for (OXTR) DNA methylation (N = 112) at two CpG sites. Three latent constructs of developmental context emerged: Neighborhood Harshness, Family Harshness, and Abuse and Disorder. Greater OXTR DNA methylation at CpG sites −924 and −934 blunted the association between greater Neighborhood Harshness and increased neural activation in caudate in anticipation of rewards. Interaction effects were also found outside of reward-related areas for all three latent constructs. Results indicate an epigenetically derived differential susceptibility model whereby high methylation coincides with decreased association between developmental environment and neural reward anticipation.

Perceptions of adolescent–parent and adolescent–peer relationship qualities, and adolescents’ attachment states of mind were examined as predictors of adult social and romantic relationship quality, depressive symptoms, and work performance. Adolescents (86 male, 98 female; 58% White, 29% African American, 8% mixed race/ethnicity, 5% other groups) were followed from age 13 to 24 via observational, self-, parent-, and close friend-reports. Adolescent close friendship quality was a significantly better predictor of adult peer and romantic outcomes, work performance, and depressive symptoms than parental reports of the parent–teen relationship; attachment security was also a strong predictor of numerous outcomes. Results are interpreted as reflecting the difficulty for parents judging parent–teen relationship quality and as reflecting the growing importance of close friendships during this period.

Allen, J. P., Loeb, E. L., Tan, J., Davis, A. A., & Uchino, B. (2021). Adolescent relational roots of adult blood pressure: A 14-year prospective study. Development and Psychopathology.

Intensity in adolescent romantic relationships was examined as a long-term predictor of higher adult blood pressure in a community sample followed from age 17 to 31 years. Romantic intensity in adolescence – measured via the amount of time spent alone with a partner and the duration of the relationship – was predicted by parents’ psychologically controlling behavior and was in turn found to predict higher resting adult systolic and diastolic blood pressure even after accounting for relevant covariates. The prediction to adult blood pressure was partially mediated via conflict in nonromantic adult friendships and intensity in adult romantic relationships. Even after accounting for these mediators, however, a direct path from adolescent romantic intensity to higher adult blood pressure remained. Neither family income in adolescence nor trait measures of personality assessed in adulthood accounted for these findings. The results of this study are interpreted both as providing further support for the view that adolescent social relationship qualities have substantial long-term implications for adult health, as well as suggesting a potential physiological mechanism by which adolescent relationships may be linked to adult health outcomes.

Stern, J. A., Costello, M. A., Kansky, J., Fowler, C., Loeb, E. L., & Allen, J. P. (2021). Here for you: Attachment and the growth of empathic support for friends in adolescence. Child Development, 92(6).

Attachment was examined as a predictor of teens’ empathic support for friends in a multimethod longitudinal study of 184 U.S. adolescents (58% Caucasian, 29% African American, 13% other) followed from ages 14 to 18. Adolescents’ secure state of mind regarding attachment at 14 predicted teens’ greater capacity to provide empathic support during observed interactions with friends across ages 16–18 (Baverage = .39). Teens’ empathic support was generally stable during this period, and less secure teens were slower to develop these skills. Further, teens’ attachment security predicted the degree to which friends called for their support (Baverage = .29), which was associated with teens’ responsiveness to such calls. The findings suggest that secure attachment predicts teens’ ability to provide empathic support in close friendships.

2020