Measuring early life adversity: A dimensional approach

Ilana S. Berman, Katie A. McLaughlin, Nim Tottenham, Keith Godfrey, Teresa Seeman, Eric Loucks, Stephen Suomi, Andrea Danese, Margaret A. Sheridan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Exposure to adversity in childhood is associated with elevations in numerous physical and mental health outcomes across the life course. The biological embedding of early experience during periods of developmental plasticity is one pathway that contributes to these associations. Dimensional models specify mechanistic pathways linking different dimensions of adversity to health and well-being outcomes later in life. While findings from existing studies testing these dimensions have provided promising preliminary support for these models, less agreement exists about how to measure the experiences that comprise each dimension. Here, we review existing approaches to measuring two dimensions of adversity: threat and deprivation. We recommend specific measures for measuring these constructs and, when possible, document when the same measure can be used by different reporters and across the lifespan to maximize the utility with which these recommendations can be applied. Through this approach, we hope to stimulate progress in understanding how particular dimensions of early environmental experience contribute to lifelong health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-511
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2022


  • ACEs
  • adverse early experiences
  • adversity
  • deprivation and threat
  • dimensional models
  • measurement


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