Publications

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.

2020

Loeb, E., Stern, J. A., Costello, M., & Allen, J. P. (2020).

With(out) a Little Help from My Friends: Insecure Attachment in Adolescence, Support-Seeking, and Adult Negativity and Hostility

. Attachment & Human Development.

Attachment theory suggests that insecurely attached individuals will have more difficulty seeking and receiving support from others. Such struggles in adolescence may reinforce negative expectations of others and contribute to relationship difficulties into adulthood. Using a diverse community sample of 184 adolescents followed from age 13 to 27, along with friends and romantic partners, this study found that more insecure states of mind regarding attachment at age 14 predicted relative decreases in teens' abilities to seek and receive support from close friends from ages 14-18. In addition, greater attachment insecurity predicted greater observed negative interactions with romantic partners and relative increases in hostile attitudes from ages 14 to 27. The effect of attachment insecurity on observed negativity was mediated by difficulty seeking/receiving support in friendships during adolescence. Results suggest a type of self-fulfilling prophecy as insecure adolescents confirm their negative expectations of others through ongoing struggles to obtain support.

Keywords: Attachment; friendships; hostility; romantic relationships; social support.

Szwedo, D., & Kansky, J. (2020). Romantic Relationship Development. In S. Hupp & Jewell, J. (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of Child and Adolescent Development. UK: John Wiley and Sons.

Romantic relationships in adolescence develop out of peer interactions that help to create a foundation for romantic involvement. Romantic involvement progresses in stages from infatuation to intimacy, and is influenced by biological, social, and psychological changes that occur throughout adolescence. Moreover, adolescent romantic relationships develop within the contexts of societal and cultural norms and behaviors as well as those learned from parents, peers, and previous romantic partners. The health and quality of these romantic relationships are furthermore determined by individual differences in the timing of relationships and sexual activity, mental health, emotion regulation abilities, and communication skills. The development of positive, healthy romantic relationships during adolescence is an instrumental precursor to forming satisfying romantic relationships in adulthood.

Chandra, C. M., Szwedo, D. E., Allen, J. P., Narr, R. K., & Tan, J. S. (2020). Interactions between anxiety subtypes, personality characteristics, and emotional regulation skills as predictors of future career outcomes. Journal of Adolescence.

This study used multi-reporter data to examine personality traits and emotion regulation/coping skills as moderators of associations between different types of anxiety and future occupational outcomes in a community sample of 184 emerging adults followed from ages 17-30. Trait anxiety, anxious arousal, rejection sensitivity, and implicit rejection were examined as predictors of later career-related ambition, work performance, job satisfaction, and career satisfaction. Conscientiousness, grit, emotion regulation (ER) and coping skills were analyzed as potential moderators. Although trait anxiety was the only anxiety variable predictive of occupational outcomes in regression analyses, personality variables and ER skills interacted with multiple types of anxiety to predict occupational outcomes. Findings reflected a pattern in which conscientiousness and ER skills mitigated negative effects of anxiety to predict better career outcomes. Findings suggest that traits such as conscientiousness and ER skills may be particularly helpful in the context of high anxiety to promote positive career development.

Yan, F., Costello, M., & Allen, J. (2020). Self-Perception and Relative Increases in Substance Use Problems in Early Adulthood. Journal of Drug Issues, 1-12.

This study assessed self-perception as a long-term predictor of relative changes in problems related to alcohol and marijuana use in early adulthood. Self-report questionnaires were completed by a community sample of 124 individuals in the Southeastern United States who were followed longitudinally from age 19 to 27. More problems due to substance use at age 27 were predicted by participants’ negative perceptions of their social acceptance, romantic appeal, and self-worth. Predictions remained after accounting for potential confounds including gender, income, and baseline substance use problems at age 19. Social avoidance and distress in new situations at age 19 mediated the relationship between self-perception and relative changes in substance use problems, such that increases in substance use problems from age 19 to 27 were potentially explainable by the linkage of negative self-perceptions to social avoidance and distress in new situations.

Loeb, E. L., Davis, A., Narr, R., Uchino, B., Grey, R. K., & Allen, J. (2020). The developmental precursors of blunted cardiovascular responses to stress. Developmental Psychobiology.
Blunted cardiovascular responses to stress have been associated with both mental and physical health concerns. This multi-method, longitudinal study examined the role of chronic social-developmental stress from adolescence onward as a precursor to these blunted stress responses. Using a diverse community sample of 184 adolescents followed from age 13 to 29 along with friends and romantic partners, this study found that high levels of parental psychological control at age 13 directly predicted a blunted heart rate response and indirectly predicted blunted respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) reactivity under stress. Heart rate effects were mediated via indicators of a developing passive response style, including observational measures of withdrawal during conflict with friends and romantic partners, social disengagement, and coping with stressors by using denial. RSA effects were mediated via withdrawal during conflict with romantic partners and coping by using denial. The current findings are interpreted as suggesting a mechanism by which a key social/developmental stressor in adolescence may alter relational and ultimately physiological patterns of stress responding into adulthood.