Publications by Year: 2021


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.