The Physiology of Stress and Behavioral Development
Elizabeth J. Susman The Pennsylvania State University
Editha D. Nottelmann National Institute of Mental Health
Lorah D. Dorn The Pennsylvania State University
Philip W. Gold National Institute of Mental Health
George P. Chrousos National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Stress (a state of threatened homeostasis) has been implicated in the onset of physical illness and psychiatric disorders in individuals of all age groups. Recent research in several disciplines, including developmental psychology, endocrinology, and psychiatry, has begun to examine the processes linking environmental stressors (threats against homeostasis), the physiology of the stress response and physical illness, psychiatric disorders, and behavioral development in general. In this chapter, we examine first the physiological responses to stress as a mechanism whereby environmental stressors may affect the course of behavioral development throughout the life span. Next, we discuss individual differences in reactivity to stressors. The physiological processes involved in our formulations of stress reactivity are primarily those involving the interactions between hormones of adrenal and gonadal origin. Finally, we examine stressors in three domains in which stress-related physiological changes may lead to alterations in behavioral development: (a) social and emotional stressors during adolescence; (b) physical stressors, with exercise as a paradigm; and (c) stressors associated with affective disorders. As the literature in these three areas is too extensive for a review here, we use examples from our own research and from the research of colleagues to illustrate potential links between the physiology of stress and behavioral development.
In examining issues involved in interrelations of the physiology of stress and