Stability and Change of Cortisol Reactivity to a Laboratory Stressor from Early to Middle Childhood
Leppert, Katherine A.
Dougherty, Lea R
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This study examined the stability and change of children’s cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stressor from early to middle childhood and moderators of change. Ninety-six children completed stress-inducing laboratory tasks and provided five salivary cortisol samples at preschool age (T1; M = 49.88 months, SD = 9.51 months) and three years later (T2; M = 87.44 months, SD = 11.42 months). At T1, parents completed clinical interviews assessing child and parent psychopathology. Cortisol reactivity patterns significantly changed from decreasing to increasing reactivity from early to middle childhood. Moreover, preschool psychopathology moderated this change. Children with fewer preschool psychiatric symptoms demonstrated more stable reactivity patterns, whereas children with preschool psychiatric comorbidity demonstrated more unstable reactivity patterns across assessments. Findings suggest a developmental shift from decreasing to increasing cortisol reactivity from early to middle childhood, and highlight early preschool psychopathology as a moderator of change in cortisol reactivity.