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J Exp Child Psychol. 2016 Feb;142:274-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.08.011. Epub 2015 Oct 1.

Maternal negative affect during infancy is linked to disrupted patterns of diurnal cortisol and alpha asymmetry across contexts during childhood.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59718, USA. Electronic address:
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Maternal negative affect in the early environment is believed to sensitize long-term coping capacities in children. Yet, little work has identified physiological systems associated with coping responses, which may serve as mechanisms for links between early maternal negativity and child outcomes. Using a longitudinal twin sample (N=89), we found that high levels of maternal negative affect during infancy were associated with dysregulation of diurnal cortisol and electroencephalograph (EEG) asymmetry, two physiological systems that may support active approach-oriented coping when children are 7years old. Flattened slopes of diurnal cortisol were also associated with greater numbers of concurrent overanxious behaviors in children. A mediation analysis supported the role of dysregulated diurnal cortisol as a mediator of the link between maternal negative affect in the early environment and childhood risk for anxiety problems.


Anxiety; Coping; Cortisol; Development; EEG asymmetry; Maternal negativity

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