Rena Repetti: Family Risk Processes and Child Development

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm
5pm reception, 5:30pm talk

CERAS Learning Hall, Stanford

Rena Repetti is Professor of Psychology at UCLA. She received her Ph.D. from Yale. Her research utilizes a multi-method approach to study how family stress and coping processes influence children’s social, emotional, and physical development. In one line of research, she and her students investigate the dynamic interplay between an individual’s efforts to cope with daily stressors and patterns of family interaction. This work derives from a social ecological perspective, which suggests that family members’ daily lives outside of the home are intimately intertwined with life inside the home. Another line of research considers how the family’s shaping of emotional, behavioral, and biological processes – and the linkages between them – lays the groundwork for future physical and mental health. Current projects use intensive repeated measures, such as diaries, and direct video recordings of families in their natural habitats, to observe short-term psychological and biological processes and to explore how they may come to influence children’s long-term health and development.


Allostatic processes in the family

Rena L. Repetti, Theodore F. Robles, and Bridget Reynolds, 2011

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.

Risky Families: Family Social Environments and the Mental and Physical Health of Offspring

Rena L. Repetti, Shelley E. Taylor, and Teresa E. Seeman, 2002

Risky families are characterized by conflict and aggression and by relationships that are cold, unsupportive, and neglectful. These family characteristics create vulnerabilities and/or interact with genetically based vulnerabilities in offspring that produce disruptions in psychosocial functioning (specifically emotion processing and social competence), disruptions in stress-responsive biological regulatory systems, including sympathetic-adrenomedullary and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical functioning, and poor health behaviors, especially substance abuse. This integrated biobehavioral profile leads to consequent accumulating risk for mental health disorders, major chronic diseases, and early mortality. We conclude that childhood family environments represent vital links for understanding mental and physical health across the life span.