Daily Stress, Coping, and Premature Cognitive Aging in Child Abuse Victims at Midlife

Duration: 2014 - Present
Funding: NIH, NIA
Principal Investigator: Jennie Noll


Reversing the impact of early, chronic adversity is of paramount importance given that over one million children are victims of abuse and neglect each year in the U.S. and that child maltreatment is estimated to account for billions in public health expenditures. The physiological wear and tear of early-life adversity has recently received considerable attention; however, supporting evidence in humans is limited because long-term health and cognitive outcomes have not yet been examined prospectively in stress-exposed samples.

The Female Growth and Development Study (FGDS) began in 1987; the PI (Jennie Noll, Ph.D.) has retained 96% of this sample of females with substantiated sexual abuse and matched comparisons (N=173) in an accelerated longitudinal, cross-sequential design spanning 6 timepoints (T1–T6). A multi-level, comprehensive, bio-psycho-social assessment was repeated three times in childhood/early adolescence (mean ages 11, 12 & 13), twice in late adolescence (mean ages 18 & 19), and once in early adulthood (mean age 24). The FGD study received additional funding from NICHD to conduct T7 and T8 assessments when the sample was mean aged 38 and 40, respectively.

New data collection as part of this study is adding (1) ecologically valid inquiry into resilient versus maladaptive coping with daily life stressors, (2) fine-grained cognitive assessments (i.e., working memory, attention inhibition, processing speed, fluid reasoning, associative memory and long-term retrieval) that prognosticate premature cognitive aging, and (3) potentially malleable behavioral health targets that could be intervened upon to reverse the impact of allostatic load on long-term physical and cognitive wellbeing.

In addition, the innovative analytic approach is utilizing extant data from T1–T8 to test the static and dynamic mechanistic properties of risk and resilient bio-psycho-social constructs, as well as potentially malleable behavioral health targets that account for individual variation in daily stress-coping and cognitive health at midlife. Resultant models will illuminate key points in development where novel interventions promoting stress inoculation and cognitive plasticity could be applied to reverse the deleterious effects of early adversity.