, Volume 214, Issue 1, pp 121-130

First online:

Early-life stress and cognitive outcome

  • Dawson W. HedgesAffiliated with1001 SWKT, Department of Psychology, Brigham Young UniversityThe Neuroscience Center, Brigham Young University Email author 
  • , Fu Lye WoonAffiliated withNeuropsychology Section, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan

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Early-life stress is associated with later neuropsychiatric illness. While the association between early-life stress and brain development is well recognized, relatively few studies have examined the association between exposure to early-life stress and cognitive outcome.


The objective of this paper is to examine the association between early-life stress and cognitive outcome in animal models and humans.


In this article, we review alterations in cognitive function associated with early-life stress in animals and then discuss the association of early-life stress and cognitive function in humans.


Findings suggest that early-life stress is associated with abnormal cognitive function in animals and humans. Furthermore, cognitive deficits associated with exposure to early-life stress in humans may persist into at least early adulthood, although animal models of enriched environments and studies of children adopted from institutionalized care into foster families suggest that certain social factors may at least partially reverse cognitive deficits following exposure to early-life stress.


Exposure to stress in early life may be associated with later deficits in cognitive function.


Early-life stress Cognition Cognitive function Memory Childhood abuse Neglect Posttraumatic-stress disorder Hippocampus Neuropsychology