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Mind Brain Educ. 2010 Dec 1;4(4):156-218. Epub 2010 Nov 11.

Effects of an Early Family Intervention on Children's Memory: The Mediating Effects of Cortisol Levels.

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  • 1University of California, Santa Barbara.


Developmental psychologists have long been concerned with the ways that early adversity influences children's long-term outcomes. In the current study, activity of the HPA axis of medically at-risk (e.g., preterm) infants was measured as a result of maternal participation in a novel cognitively-based home visitation program (versus a Healthy Start home visitation program). Maternal participation in the cognitive intervention predicted lower basal cortisol levels among infants - with reduced levels of maternal avoidance/withdrawal serving as a mediator of this relation. Lower cortisol levels in infancy, in turn, predicted higher verbal short-term memory at age 3. Short-term memory represents a cognitive ability that has importance for children's later educational outcomes. Findings provide experimental evidence concerning the pathway by which an early intervention may produce hormonal changes that can, in turn, influence children's learning outcomes.

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