Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 January 2022
Recent neurodevelopmental and evolutionary theories offer strong theoretical rationales and some empirical evidence to support the importance of specific dimensions of early adversity. However, studies have often been limited by omission of other adversity dimensions, singular outcomes, and short follow up durations. 1,420 participants in the community, Great Smoky Mountains Study, were assessed up to eight times between age 9 and 16 for four dimensions of early adversity: Threat, Material Deprivation, Unpredictability, and Loss (as well as a Cumulative Adversity measure). Participants were followed up to four times in adulthood (ages 19, 21, 25, and 30) to measure psychiatric disorders, substance disorder, and “real-world” functioning. Every childhood adversity dimension was associated with multiple adult psychiatric, substance, or functional outcomes when tested simultaneously in a multivariable analysis that accounted for other childhood adversities. There was evidence of differential impact of dimensions of adversity exposure on proximal outcomes (e.g., material deprivation and IQ) and even on distal outcomes (e.g., threat and emotional functioning). There were similar levels of prediction between the best set of individual adversity scales and a single cumulative adversity measure when considering distal outcomes. All dimensions of childhood adversity have lasting, pleiotropic effects, on adult health and functioning, but these dimensions may act via distinct proximal pathways.