Development and Psychopathology


A developmental increase in allostatic load from ages 3 to 11 years is associated with increased schizotypal personality at age 23 years

Melissa Peskina1 c1, Adrian Rainea1, Yu Gaoa1, Peter H. Venablesa2 and Sarnoff A. Mednicka3

a1 University of Pennsylvania

a2 University of York

a3 University of Southern California


Although allostatic load has been investigated in mood and anxiety disorders, no prior study has investigated developmental change in allostatic load as a precursor to schizotypal personality. This study employed a multilevel developmental framework to examine whether the development of increased allostatic load, as indicated by impaired sympathetic nervous system habituation from ages 3 to 11 years, predisposes to schizotypal personality at age 23 years. Electrodermal activity to six aversive tones was recorded in 995 subjects at age 3 years and again at 11 years. Habituation slopes at both ages were used to create groups who showed a developmental increase in habituation (decreased allostatic load), and those who showed a developmental decrease in habituation (increased allostatic load). Children who showed a developmental increase in allostatic load from ages 3 to 11 years had higher levels of schizotypal personality at 23 years. A breakdown of total schizotypy scores demonstrated specificity of findings to cognitive–perceptual features of schizotypy. Findings are the first to document a developmental abnormality in allostasis in relation to adult schizotypal personality. The relative failure to develop normal habituation to repeated stressors throughout childhood is hypothesized to result in an accumulation of allostatic load and consequently increased positive symptom schizotypy in adulthood.

(Online publication October 21 2011)


This research was supported by an NIMH Independent Scientist Award MH-01114-01 and NIMH Grant MH-46435-02 (to A.R.); grants from the Medical Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Mental Health Foundation (to P.H.V.); and an NIMH Research Scientist Award MH-00619-08 (to S.A.M.). We thank the staff at the Joint Child Health Project in Quatre Bornes for their assistance in data collection, with particular thanks to Cyril Dalais.