Emotion Regulation as a Pathway Connecting Early Life Adversity and Inflammation in Adulthood: a Conceptual Framework

Ambika Mathur, Jacinda C. Li, Sarah R. Lipitz, Jennifer E. Graham-Engeland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Chronic inflammation is implicated in a variety of diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease and cancer). Much evidence suggests that early life adversity (ELA), such as maltreatment or neglect, can increase risk for inflammation in adulthood. ELA may program proinflammatory activity via its effects on brain areas involved in emotion regulation. Of multiple emotion regulation strategies, some are considered maladaptive (e.g., expressive suppression), while others are generally adaptive (e.g., cognitive reappraisal). We propose a conceptual framework for how emotion regulation tendencies may affect vulnerability or resilience to inflammation in adults who experienced adversity in childhood and/or adolescence. In support of this framework, we summarize evidence for the relationships between emotion dysregulation and higher inflammation (i.e., vulnerability), as well as between cognitive reappraisal and lower inflammation (i.e., resilience), in healthy adults with a history of ELA. Plausible neurobiological, physiological, psychosocial, and ELA-specific factors, as well as interventions, contributing to these associations are discussed. Strengths and limitations of the extant research, in addition to ideas for future directions, are presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalAdversity and Resilience Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)

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