Effects of early adversity on children’s development

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Previous research indicates that psychosocial risks and contextual risks such as poverty can have detrimental effects on children’s development. In this thesis I use data from the Avon Longitudinal study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to examine prospective relationships between risk factors present early in life and later child outcomes related to cognitive functioning, psychopathology, and brain structure.

In Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 I describe theories and methods behind the research presented in this thesis. Chapter 3 examines how maternal depression, contextual risks, and interpersonal stress early in life relate prospectively to children’s cognitive outcomes at the age of 8 years. Chapter 4 introduces a metaTanalysis of brain imaging studies I conducted to identify brain regions showing reduced metabolism in depression. Chapter 5 examines how early adverse experiences within the first six years of life relate to children’s internalising symptoms during childhood, and how early adversity and internalising symptoms relate to variation in grey matter structure in early adulthood in the regions of interest identified in Chapter 4. In Chapter 6 I examine how preT and postnatal psychosocial adversity (prenatal maternal stress, childhood adversity, and peer victimisation) relate to psychosisTlike experiences in adolescence, and how psychosocial adversity and psychosisTlike experiences relate to altered white matter microstructure in adolescence.

Finally, Chapter 7 presents a summarising discussion of the general themes emerging from my research, as well as limitations and future directions for this field of research. The results presented in this thesis indicate that different types of risks during prenatal and early postnatal development relate to poorer child outcomes, including poorer cognitive functioning, increased levels of psychopathological symptoms, and altered grey and white matter. These findings have implications for intervention since they highlight the importance of intervening early in life.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorArgyris Stringaris (Supervisor) & Edward Barker (Supervisor)

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