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Allostatic processes in the family

  • Rena L. Repetti (a1), Theodore F. Robles (a1) and Bridget Reynolds (a1)


The concepts of allostatic load and allostatic processes can help psychologists understand how health trajectories are influenced by stressful childhood experiences in the family. This paper describes psychological pathways and two key allostatic mediators, the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and the immune system, through which stressful early rearing conditions may influence adult mental and physical health. The action of meshed gears is introduced as a metaphor to illustrate how responses occurring within a brief time frame, for example, immediate reactions to stressors, can influence developmental and health processes unfolding over much longer spans of time. We identify early-developing psychological and biological response patterns that could link chronic stressors in childhood to later health outcomes. Some of these “precursor outcomes” (e.g., heightened vigilance and preparedness for threats; enhanced inflammatory and humoral responses to infectious microorganisms) appear to be aimed at protection from immediate dangers; they may reflect “adaptive trade-offs” that balance short-term survival advantages under harsh rearing conditions against disadvantages manifested later in development. Our analysis also suggests mechanisms that underlie resilience in risky family environments.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rena L. Repetti, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563; E-mail:


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