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The importance of friendships in reducing brain responses to stress in adolescents exposed to childhood adversity: a pre-registered systematic review

Up to 50% of all children and adolescents growing up worldwide are exposed to at least one form of childhood adversity (CA), which is one of the strongest predictors for later-life psychopathology.

Maximilian Scheuplein en Anne-Laura Van Harmelen
22 February 2022
Read the pre-registered systematic review

One way through which CA confers such vulnerability in later-life is through increased sensitivity to and likelihood of social stress. A growing body of research demonstrates the positive impact of adolescent friendship support on mental well-being after CA, however, the mechanisms that may underlie this relationship are unknown.

Neurobiological models of social buffering suggest that social support can reduce perceptions, reactions, and physiological responses to and after stress. Therefore, this pre-registered, systematic literature search examined whether friendships reduce neural stress responses in adolescents with CA.

We screened over 6000 papers, however, we identified only two studies that specifically tested whether friendship support buffered neural stress responses in adolescents with CA and these studies were reported different findings, one supporting and one not supporting the idea of friendship buffering. Therefore, future research is clearly needed to investigate whether friendships can reduce stress responses in young people with a history of early life adverse experiences.

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