Testing Three Hypotheses About Effects of Sensitive–Insensitive Parenting on Telomeres

Roseriet Beijers, Sarah Hartman, Idan Shalev, Waylon Hastings, Brooke C. Mattern, Carolina de Weerth, Jay Belsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Telomeres are the protective DNA-protein sequences appearing at the ends of chromosomes; they shorten with each cell division and are considered a biomarker of aging. Shorter telomere length and greater erosion have been associated with compromised physical and mental health and are hypothesized to be affected by early life stress. In the latter case, most work has relied on retrospective measures of early life stressors. The Dutch research (n = 193) presented herein tested 3 hypotheses prospectively regarding effects of sensitive–insensitive parenting during the first 2.5 years on telomere length at age 6, when first measured, and change over the following 4 years. It was predicted that (1) less sensitive parenting would predict shorter telomeres and greater erosion and that such effects would be most pronounced in children (2) exposed to prenatal stress and/or (3) who were highly negatively emotional as infants. Results revealed, only, that prenatal stress amplified parenting effects on telomere change—in a differential-susceptibility-related manner: Prenatally stressed children displayed more erosion when they experienced insensitive parenting and less erosion when they experienced sensitive parenting. Mechanisms that might initiate greater postnatal plasticity as a result of prenatal stress are highlighted and future work outlined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-250
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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