Ongoing Studies

Histories of Perceived Discrimination and Health


In a project funded by NIH, Adam and colleagues are examining 20 years of prospective data, gathered from adolescence through young adulthood from the Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study to understand how histories of exposure to perceived racial/ethnic discrimination relate to a set of biomarkers of stress and health in young adulthood. Detailed information on exposure to race-related and nonrace-related stressors, as well as measures family functioning, and racial/ethnic identity and coping are available over a 20-year period. These are being related to a wide range of stress-sensitive biological measures in young adulthood, including measures of gene expression relevant to the regulation of biological stress. Additionally, the study included a seven-day diary study examining how current perceptions of daily discrimination relate to cortisol stress hormone levels and sleep quality, and an experimental protocol examining degree of physiological reactivity to race-related stress.


Analyses are ongoing on this study, but results published thus far suggest that a cumulative developmental history of higher perceived discrimination is associated with flatter cortisol diurnal rhythms and lower overall cortisol levels in early adulthood, which are indicators of chronic stress, and that experiences of discrimination during adolescence have particularly strong effects on adult stress biology. In addition, histories of discrimination help to explain racial-ethnic disparities in cortisol rhythms.


Daily Experiences, Stress and Sleep over the Transition to Adulthood


In this 10-year longitudinal study, funded by NIH and the William T. Grant Foundation, Adam and collaborators explore the implications of differences in stress exposure for the development of depression and anxiety in adolescents as they leave high school and move into college and work experiences. Life events interviews, questionnaires and diaries capture changes in adolescents' experiences over this transition. Cortisol stress-hormone measurement, as well as objective measurement of sleep quality (wrist-watch sized "actigraphs") trace the impact of these changes on adolescents' physiology. Yearly clinical interviews assess symptoms and diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorder. Adam is examining whether differences in stress-exposure, stress hormone levels, and sleep quality help us to understand which adolescents remain emotionally healthy and which develop depression and anxiety disorders as they negotiate the transition to adulthood. Results suggest that interpersonal stressors and obtaining fewer hours of sleep are associated with alterations in stress hormone patterns across the day, and greater risk for depression. Results also show that, after accounting for the effects of life events, individuals with higher surges in stress hormones in the morning hours are at increased risk of depression over the next two and a half years, and onsets of anxiety disorder over the next four years.


Social Influences on Early Adult Stress Biomarkers


In this NIH-funded project, Adam, in collaboration with Thomas McDade, Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Thomas Cook and Greg Duncan, is utilizing the nationally representative Add Health study to examine whether stressors experienced during the adolescent and adult years are predictive of stress-related biomarkers in young adulthood. In particular, the project aims to examine whether changes in stress-related biomarkers as a result of chronic stress may help to explain the emergence of socioeconomic and racial/ethnic health disparities. A number of findings have emerged, including that exposure to adverse relationship events in adolescence, including loneliness, loss, low parent warmth, exposure to violence in a romantic relationship, and romantic relationship instability are associated with worse mental and physical health outcomes in early adulthood. In addition, measures of positive well-being in adolescence (including positive mood, high self esteem and optimism), predict better health behaviors and young adult health, above and beyond the effects of depression and a wide range of other demographic and adolescent health covariates.


Cities Stress and Learning Study


In an NIH-funded study involving 300-plus Chicago Public School Students between ages 11 and 18, Adam and her collaborators Kathy Grant from DePaul University, and health psychologist Edith Chen are validating a new comprehensive measure of adolescent stress and examining associations adolescent stress exposure and a wide range of emotional, health and academic outcomes. One area of particular focus for the Adam Lab is examining associations between stress, stress hormones, sleep, and executive functioning, measured with computer tasks in the laboratory setting and in the home during the course of a four-day diary study. Variations in executive function will also be linked to adolescent health and academic outcomes.