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Dev Psychobiol. 2008 Sep;50(6):588-99. doi: 10.1002/dev.20319.

Neuroendocrine dysregulation following early social deprivation in children.

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University of Wisconsin at Madison, Department of Psychology, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Human and nonhuman animal studies reveal that early experiences with caregivers shape children's ability to regulate their responses to stress. To understand the effects of early deprivation on the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis following social interactions, we examined urinary cortisol levels in a group of internationally adopted children who had experienced institutional care, and thus, species-atypical attachment relationships, early in life prior to adoption. Cortisol regulation was assessed both basally and following standardized interpersonal interactions between the child and his/her mother and the child and an unfamiliar adult. Postinstitutionalized children showed prolonged elevations in cortisol levels following the mother, but not the stranger, interaction. More severe neglect was associated with the highest basal cortisol levels and the most impaired cortisol regulation following the mother interaction. These results suggest that early social deprivation may contribute to long-term regulatory problems of the stress-responsive system, and that these differences are most evident within the context of ongoing, close interpersonal relationships.

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