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Dev Psychobiol. 2014 Apr;56(3):340-54. doi: 10.1002/dev.21103. Epub 2013 Feb 8.

Stress system development from age 4.5 to 6: family environment predictors and adjustment implications of HPA activity stability versus change.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wyoming, 3415 1000 E, University Avenue, Laramie, WY 82071.


This study addressed early calibration of stress systems by testing links between adversity exposures, developmental stability of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity, and behavior problems in a sample of adopted children. Families (n=200) were assessed when the child was 9, 18, and 27 months, 4.5 and 6 years to collect adversity information-parent psychopathology, stress, financial need, and home chaos. Morning and evening cortisol samples at the final two assessments indexed child HPA activity, and parent-reported internalizing and externalizing at the final assessment represented child behavior outcomes. Increases in cumulative adversity from 4.5 to 6 related to higher child morning cortisol, whereas age six cumulative adversities related to lower, unstable child evening cortisol. Examination of specific adversity dimensions revealed associations between (1) increasing home chaos and stable morning cortisol, which in turn related to internalizing problems; and (2) high parental stress and psychopathology and lower, unstable evening cortisol, which in turn related to externalizing problems.


adopted children; adversity; childhood; cortisol; hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; longitudinal; stability

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