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Dev Psychopathol. 2011 Feb;23(1):149-61. doi: 10.1017/S0954579410000702.

Biological sensitivity to context moderates the effects of the early teacher-child relationship on the development of mental health by adolescence.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, 6001 Research Park Boulevard, Madison, WI 53719, USA.


The moderating effects of biological sensitivity to context (physiological and behavioral stress reactivity) on the association between the early teacher-child relationship and the development of adolescent mental health problems were examined in a community sample of 96 children. Grade 1 measures of biological sensitivity to context included physiological (i.e., slope of mean arterial pressure across a 20- to 30-min stress protocol) and behavioral (i.e., temperamental inhibition/disinhibition) markers. Grade 1 measures of the teacher-child relationship included positive (i.e., closeness) and negative (i.e., conflict) qualities. Mental health symptoms were assessed at Grades 1 and 7. Results of a multiple regression analysis indicated substantial association of the teacher-child relationship with the development of adolescent mental health symptoms, especially for more reactive children. In addition to teacher-child relationship main effects, all four Reactivity x Teacher-Child Relationship interaction terms were statistically significant when controlling for Grade 1 symptom severity, suggesting that both physiological and behavioral reactivity moderate the association of both adverse and supportive aspects of the teacher-child relationship with Grade 7 symptom severity over and above Grade 1 severity. There were important differences, depending on which stress reactivity measure was considered. The importance of these findings for recent theoretical arguments regarding biological sensitivity to context and differential susceptibility is discussed.

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