Early life predictors of positive change during the coronavirus disease pandemic

Maria E. Bleil, Bradley M. Appelhans, Alexis S. Thomas, Steven E. Gregorich, Neal Marquez, Glenn I. Roisman, Cathryn Booth-LaForce, Kyle Crowder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unprecedented in its size and scope. Yet studies of resilience suggest most individuals will successfully negotiate this challenge and some may even experience growth and positive change. Some evidence suggests that the capacity to enact positive change in the face of adversity may be shaped by early life experiences. Methods: In a subset of 374 participants (57% female, mean age = 29 years) in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), a longitudinal, birth cohort, prospective models were tested to determine whether early life adversities in family and neighborhood contexts predict positive change events in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Childhood family and neighborhood contexts were assessed using a combination of self-report questionnaires and US Census data. Adulthood positive change events (e.g., becoming more appreciative of things usually taken for granted) were assessed using the Epidemic-Pandemic Impacts Inventory (EPII). Results: In regression analyses, neighborhood disadvantage in childhood, measured both by objective and subjective assessments, predicted a higher number of positive change events in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (β =.18, p =.004 and β =.15, p =.006, respectively). Examination of the positive change event subscales showed neighborhood disadvantage in childhood predicted increases in events related to ‘perspective taking and charitable giving’ (β =.20, p =.022 and β =.17, p =.002, respectively) and improved ‘social relationships’ (β =.18, p =.004 and β =.13, p =.020, respectively), but not to positive ‘health behaviors’ (ps >.05). All associations were independent of sociodemographic factors and childhood family dysfunction. Conclusions: Findings suggest that neighborhood disadvantage in childhood may shape prosocial responses to stress in adulthood, potentially through early life adaptions to stress that are protective when facing adversity. There are several notable implications of the study findings. Although adversity in early life has clear negative impacts, it is possible that adversity experiences may also provide opportunities to develop adaptive strategies that foster resilience and growth when facing stress. Intervention efforts should consider leveraging such stress-adapted strengths to reduce the many negative impacts of early life adversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number83
JournalBMC Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 18 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U10HD025447, R01HD091132) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (R01HL130103) at the National Institutes of Health as well as the Van Hooser Endowed Nursing Research Fund through the Research and Intramural Funding Program (RIFP) at the University of Washington. The sponsors of this work played no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data an in writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Coronavirus disease pandemic
  • COVID-19
  • Early life adversity
  • Neighborhood disadvantage
  • Positive change
  • Resilience
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Stress

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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