Early life stress and neural development: Implications for understanding the developmental effects of COVID-19
Cognitive affect. behav. neurosci. (Online)
Chronic and/or extreme stress in childhood, often referred to as early life stress, is associated with a wide range of long-term effects on development. Given this, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to concern about how stress due to the pandemic will affect children's development and mental health. Although early life stress has been linked to altered functioning of a number of neural and biological systems, there is a wide range of variability in children's outcomes. The mechanisms that influence these individual differences are still not well understood. In the past, studies of stress in childhood focused on the type of events that children encountered in their lives. We conducted a review of the literature to formulate a new perspective on the effects of early life stress on development. This new, topological model, may increase understanding of the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children's development. This model is oriented on children's perceptions of their environment and their social relationships, rather than specific events. These factors influence central and peripheral nervous system development, changing how children interpret, adapt, and respond to potentially stressful events, with implications for children's mental and physical health outcomes.