College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

Megan Gunnar

  • Pronouns: she, her, hers

  • Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor

Megan Gunnar

Areas of interest

Adolescents and youth, developmental neuroscience, early childhood, prenatal, stress and maltreatment


PhD, 1978, Stanford University


Megan R. Gunnar is a Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and a member of the University of Minnesota’s Distinguished Academy of Teachers. She received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Stanford University in 1978, completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Psychoneuroendocrinology at Stanford Medical School and then joined the faculty in Minnesota in the fall of 1979. Professor Gunnar has spent her career studying how stress biology affects neurobehavioral development and the processes that help children regulate stress hormones. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Education. She has lifetime achievement awards from the American Psychological Association, the Society for Research in Child Development, the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and International Society for Psychoneuoendocrinology. She also has mentoring awards from the APS and the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology. She is involved in many activities to translate research on early development for use by policy makers, practitioners and families, including being a founding member of the Harvard’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. She serves on the boards of Think Small, the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery and is on the Advisory Council to Children’s Cabinet for the State of Minnesota.

Effects of early adverse care on brain and behavioral development; Stress neurobiology and development.

Human Developmental Psychobiology Lab


The Gunnar Laboratory for Developmental Psychobiology Research


My lab studies how children and adolescents regulate stress and emotions. Two issues currently motivate most of our work.

First, we know that during infancy and childhood attachment relationships are powerful regulators of the child’s stress system. Regulation of the stress system by the parent-child attachment relationships appears to become less effective in adolescence. Furthermore, this shift in effectiveness is associated more with pubertal stage than age, and we find that friends do not simply take over for parents as social buffers of stress. We are currently working on an imaging paradigm to help us explore how the changes in social buffering during the peripubertal period relate to changes in brain activation patterns during stressors.

Second, we have found that children who did not have the opportunity to form stable attachment relationships early in life (i.e., those adopted from orphanages) also fail to be able to use the parent-child relationship to regulate stress during childhood. Such children also show atypical patterns of stress activity in anticipation of threat. However, for these children puberty, being a period of heightened neural plasticity may open a window of opportunity to recalibrate the stress system. Thus we are examining the role of puberty in interaction with current psychosocial stress conditions in shaping stress reactivity and regulation in both youth with a history of deprived care (orphanage-adopted children) and children reared in their families of origin. 

Advising expectations and availability

If you are a prospective graduate student who is interested in working with Dr. Gunnar, click here to review her advising expectations. This advising document outlines what you can expect from Dr. Gunnar as an advisor/mentor and provides an overview of Dr. Gunnar's expectations of students. Expectations for both the child psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota and the Gunnar Laboratory for Developmental Psychobiology Research can be found here.

Please note that Dr. Gunnar is phasing into retirement. She is no longer taking on new Ph.D. students as their primary advisor but is available to co-advise.


Shonkoff, J.P., Boyce, W.T., Bush, N., Gunnar, M.R., Hensch, T., Levitt, P., Meaney,M.J., Nelson, C.A., Slopen, N., Williams, D., Silveria, P.P. (in press). Translating the Biology of Adversity and Resilience into New Measures for Pediatric Practice. Pediatrics. 10;e2021054493.doi: 10.1542/peds.2021-054493

Perry, N. B., Donzella, B., DePasquale, C.E., & Gunnar, M.R. (2022). Stress recalibration and later social and emotional adjustment among adolescents: The role of early life stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 135:105578. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.202

Gunnar, M. R., Reid, B. M., Donzella, B., Miller, Z. R., Gardow, S., Tsakonas, N. C., Thomas, K. M., DeJoseph, M., & Bendezú, J. J. (2021). Validation of an online version of the Trier Social Stress Test in a study of adolescents. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 125, 105111.

Gunnar, M.R. (2021). Forty years of research on stress and development: What have we learned and future directions. American Psychologist, 76(9): 1372-1384. doi: 10.1037/amp0000893.

Gunnar, M.R. & Bowen, M. (2021). What was learned from studying the effects of early institutional Pubertal deprivation. Invited paper, Pharamacology, Biochemistry and Behavior. ?210:173272. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2021.173272.

Liu, S., Fisher, P., Schlueter, L., Phu, T., Gunnar, M., & Watamura, S. (2021). A brief video-coaching Intervention buffers young children's vulnerability to the impact of caregivers’ depressive symptoms: Examination of differential susceptibility. Development and Psychopathology, 33(5), 1685-1700. doi:10.1017/S0954579421000687

Perry, N.B., Johnson, A. E., Hostinar, C.E., & Gunnar, M. (2021). Parental emotional support and social buffering in previously-institutionalized and typically developing children and adolescents. Developmental Psychobiology. 63(5):1167-1176. doi: 10.1002/dev.22067

Reid, B.M., Horne, R., Donzella, B., Szamosi, J.C., Coe, C.L., Foster, J.A., Gunnar, M.R. (2021). Microbiota immune alterations in adolescents following early-life adversity: a proof of concept study. Developmental Psychobiology;63(5):851-863. doi: 10.1002/dev.22061.

Howland, M.A., Donzella, B., Miller, B.S., Gunnar, M.R. (2020) Pubertal recalibration of cortisol-DHEA coupling In previously-institutionalized children. Hormones and Behavior, 125:104816. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2020.104816.

Herzberg, M.P., Hunt, R.H., Thomas, K.M., Gunnar, M.R. (2020). Differential brain activity as a function of social evaluative stress in early adolescence: Brain function and salivary cortisol. Development and Psychopathology, 32(5):1926-1936.

Engel, M.L., & Gunnar Mr.R. (2020). The development of stress reactivity and regulation during human development. International Review of Neurobiology, 150:41-76.

Reid BM, Coe CL, Doyle CM, Sheerar D, Slukvina A, Donzella B, Gunnar MR. (2019). Persistent skewing of the T-cell profile in adolescents adopted internationally from institutional care. Brain, Behavior and Immunity. 77:168-177

Gunnar, M.R., DePasquale, C.E., Reid, B.M. & Dozella, B. (2019). Pubertal stress recalibration results in reversal of the effects of early life stress in post-institutionalized children. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116(48):23984-23988.