Megan Gunnar, PhD

Department Chair, Director of the Institute, Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Institute of Child Development

Megan Gunnar

Contact Info

Office Address:
Institute of Child Development
184 Child Development
51 E River Road
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Department Chair, Director of the Institute, Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Institute of Child Development

Center for Neurobehavioral Development

Doctoral Degree, Stanford University, 1978


My lab studies how children and adolescents regulate stress and emotions. Two issues currently motivate most of our work. First, we know that during infancy and childhood attachment relationships are powerful regulators of the child’s stress system. Regulation of the stress system by the parent-child attachment relationships appears to be “lost” in adolescence. We are testing whether this happens in relation to puberty or to psychosocial changes occurring over the adolescent period. We also plan to examine whether friendships and/or romantic relationships take over the stress-buffering role during the adolescent years, and if so, whether this helps explain heightened vulnerability to stress-related emotional disorders for youth who suffer from poorer peer relations. Second we have found that children who did not have the opportunity to form stable attachment relationships early in life (i.e., those adopted from orphanages) also fail to be able to use the parent-child relationship to regulate stress during childhood. Such children also show atypical patterns of stress activity in anticipation of threat. However, for these children puberty, being a period of heightened neural plasticity may open a window of opportunity to recalibrate the stress system. Thus we are examining the role of puberty in interaction with current psychosocial stress conditions in shaping stress reactivity and regulation in both youth with a history of deprived care (orphanage-adopted children) and children reared in their families of origin.


Research Summary/Interests

Effects of early adverse care on brain and behavioral development; Stress neurobiology and development.


  • Hostinar, C.E., Sullivan R., & Gunnar, M.R. (2013). Psychobiological mechanisms underlying the social buffering of stress: A review of animal models and human studies across development. Psychological Bulletin. e-pub a head of print.
  • Hostinar, C.E. & Gunnar, M.R. (2013). Future directions in the study of social relationships as stress regulators across development. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 42(4):564-75.
  • Stellern, S., Esposito., E. Mliner, S., Pears, K., Gunnar, M. (2014). Increased freezing and decreased positive affect in postinstitutionalized children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55, 88-95.
  • Carlson, E. A., Hostinar, C.E., & Gunnar, M.R. (2014). The emergence of attachment following early social deprivation. Development and Psychopathology, 26(2):479-89.
  • Lawler, J. M., Hostinar, C. E., Mliner, S., & Gunnar, M. R. (2014) Disinhibited social engagement in postinstitutionalized children: Differentiating normal from atypical behavior. Development and Psychopathology, 26(2):451-64.
  • Doom, J.R., Gunnar, M.R., Georgieff, M.K., Kroupina, M.G., Frenn, K., Fuglestad, A.J., Carlson, S.M. (2014). Beyond stimulus deprivation: Iron deficiency and cognitive deficits in postinstitutionalized children. Child Development, e-pub ahead of print.
  • Hostinar, C. E., Johnson, A. E., & Gunnar, M. R. (2014). Parent support is less effective in buffering cortisol stress responses for adolescents compared to children. Developmental Science. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Doom, J.R., Georgieff, M.K., & Gunnar, M.R. (2014). Institutional care and iron deficiency increase ADHD symptomology and lower IQ 2.5-5 years post-adoption. Developmental Science. [e-pub ahead of print]
  • Nguyen, D. J. & Gunnar, M.R. (2014). Depressive symptoms in mothers of recently-adopted post-institutionalized children. Adoption Quarterly. [e-pub ahead of print.]
  • Pitula, C., Thomas, K., M., Essex, M.J., Armstrong, J.M., Crick, N. R. & Gunnar, M. R. (2014). Peer victimization and internalizing symptoms among post-institutionalized, internationally adopted youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. [e-pub ahead of print]
  • Koss, K.J., Hostinar, C.E., Donzella, B., & Gunnar, M.R. (2014). Social deprivation and the HPA axis in early development. Psychoneuroendocrinology. [e-pub ahead of print]