Megan R. Gunnar is a developmental psychologist specializing in developmental psychobiology. She is known for her research on the development and regulation of stress physiology in human children and the effect of early deprivation on stress regulation and behavioral development. Gunnar grew up in Salem, Oregon. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland, California in 1973. She earned her Ph.D. in developmental psychology in 1978 at Stanford University working with Eleanor Maccoby (an NAS member), and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in developmental psychoneuroendocrinology at Stanford Medical School working with Seymour Levine. Following her postdoc, she joined the faculty of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1979. She has received numerous honors during her career, including lifetime achievement awards from the Society for Research in Child Development, the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology, the Association for Psychological Sciences and the American Psychological Association. In addition to research, she has been active in translating the science of early development for use by policy makers and practitioners, being a founding member of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and currently serving on the advisory council to the Minnesota Governor’s Children’s Cabinet.

Research Interests

Megan Gunnar's laboratory is interested in the social regulation of stress physiology during development. They have shown that secure attachment relationships serve as powerful regulators of stress physiology, notably the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system and the sympathetic-adrenomedullary system. With puberty, parents become less powerful regulators of the HPA axis. Gunnar and her students are currently working to understand when and how other relationships may serve as stress regulators during adolescence. Currently, they are examining whether "sharing the load" with a friend will help buffer stress in adolescence. Her laboratory has also shown that when children lack an adult regulatory partner, as in children reared in orphanage/institutional care, the physiology of stress is markedly dysregulated. Specially, the stress response is blunted, a pattern associated with externalizing and attention problems. This dysregulation persists once children are placed in supportive families. However, her laboratory has recently shown that puberty opens a window for recalibration of the HPA axis and perhaps other stress-defense system. Increasing reactivity to normative levels, however, appears to result in increases in internalizing symptoms. In interdisciplinary collaborations, Gunnar's laboratory has also shown that early institutional rearing results in increases in terminally differentiated T-cells and poorer cardiometabolic health in adolescence, despite a lean BMI.

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Primary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences