Background: Specific sources of psychophysiological dysfunction have been identified as a primary mechanism of the association between stress and health, wherein chronic and prolonged exposure to stressors results in downstream negative consequences of stress-linked dysregulation that increase the likelihood of chronic health problems. Factors pertinent to criminological inquiry have been previously identified as sources of physiological dysfunction, but the extent to which offending over the life course operates in a similar manner has yet to be examined. The current study examines the longitudinal association between delinquency and physiological dysfunction in cardiovascular and metabolic functioning (i.e., cardiometabolic risk). The results of longitudinal structural equation models revealed that greater levels of delinquency are associated with higher levels of cardiometabolic risk.
Emotional Processing Coping Methods and Biomarkers of Stress in Young Adult Testicular Cancer Survivors
Background: Coping through emotional processing (EP) with cancer-related circumstances can take several forms, including methods thought to be constructive (e.g., planning, meaning making) and unconstructive (e.g., rumination). These forms can have differential relationships with experiences of stress. Associations of coping through constructive and unconstructive EP in expressive writing with salivary stress biomarkers were examined among young adult testicular cancer survivors. Constructive processing was significantly associated with less overall daily cortisol output and smaller salivary alpha-amylase awakening response; unconstructive processing was also associated with lower daily cortisol output. These preliminary results from this exploratory study inform future research associating emotion-regulation coping and biological stress reactivity.
Loneliness and cortisol are associated with social network regulation
Background: This study examines how loneliness and the body’s stress response system interact to regulate social connections. We suggest that the drive to reconnect signaled by loneliness can be accompanied physiologically by the production of cortisol, which can offer supportive coping resources. Thus, we investigated how loneliness, cortisol levels, and their interaction predicted changes in network connections in a social organization. Participants (n = 193; 53% female) provided friendship network data at two times. At time 1, participants reported on loneliness and donated saliva (later assayed for cortisol). Results revealed that concurrently, lonely individuals reported fewer friendships, whereas over time, they named more friends. These results support the hypothesis that loneliness is a signal to develop connections. We also explored whom lonely individuals befriended over time. Results showed that cortisol significantly moderated the preference for friends with a similar level of loneliness. Specifically, lonely individuals with higher cortisol befriended those who were less lonely over those who were lonelier. Thus, cortisol levels may serve an adaptive function in mobilizing resources to develop connections that fulfill social belongingness needs. Results supported the theorized signaling function of loneliness and revealed that loneliness and the stress response system interact to shape social connections.
Overestimating Self-Blame for Stressful Life Events and Adolescents’ Latent Trait Cortisol: The Moderating Role of Parental Warmth
Background: Cognitive interpretations of stressful events impact their implications for physiological stress processes. However, whether such interpretations are related to trait cortisol-an indicator of individual differences in stress physiology-is unknown. In 112 early adolescent girls (M age = 12.39 years), this study examined the association between self-blame estimates for past year events and latent trait cortisol, and whether maternal warmth moderated effects. Overestimating self-blame (versus objective indices) for independent (uncontrollable) events was associated with lower latent trait cortisol, and maternal warmth moderated the effect of self-blame estimates on latent trait cortisol for each dependent (at least partially controllable) and interpersonal events. Implications for understanding the impact of cognitive and interpersonal factors on trait cortisol during early adolescence are discussed.
Prospective Relations Between Prenatal Maternal Cortisol and Child Health Outcomes.
To investigate prospective, longitudinal associations between maternal prenatal cortisol response to an interpersonal stressor and child health over the subsequent three years.
123 women expecting their first child provided salivary cortisol samples between 12-32 weeks gestation (M=22.4±4.9 weeks) before and after a videotaped couple conflict discussion with their partner. Mothers reported on overall child health and several indicators of child illness (sick doctor visits, fevers, ear and respiratory infections) when children were 6 months (n=114), 1 (n=116) and 3 (n=105) years old. Associations between maternal prenatal cortisol reactivity and recovery and later child health at each of the three time points were analyzed using longitudinal regression models.
Greater cortisol reactivity in response to the couple conflict discussion was associated with maternal self-report of better overall child health (p = 0.016, 95% CI = [0.06, 1.30], Cohen’s f = 0.045) across the study period. Greater cortisol reactivity was also associated with lower incidence rate ratios (IRRs) for maternal reports of sick doctor visits (IRR 95% CI = [0.25, 0.83], p = 0.006), fevers (CI = [0.25, 0.73], p = 0.002), ear infections (CI = [0.25, 0.58], p < 0.001), and respiratory infections (CI = [0.08, 1.11], p = 0.073). Cortisol recovery was unrelated to study outcomes (all ps > 0.05). Maternal prenatal depressive symptoms moderated the association between cortisol reactivity and overall child health (p = 0.034, 95% CI = [0.07, 1.87] for interaction term) but no other health outcomes (ps > 0.05). Among women with lower depressive symptoms, cortisol reactivity was not associated with overall child health; among women with higher levels of depressive symptoms, greater cortisol reactivity was associated with better overall child health.
This study provides longitudinal evidence that greater maternal cortisol reactivity to a salient interpersonal stressor during pregnancy is associated with fewer child health problems and better maternal report of overall child health during infancy and into early childhood.
Childhood abuse predicts affective symptoms via HPA reactivity during mother-infant stress.
Background: Despite extensive literature positing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis as a mechanism in the association between early childhood maltreatment and later adult psychopathology, empirical support for this full pathway is lacking. We tested indirect effects of childhood maltreatment on women’s later affective symptomatology via HPA axis responding to a stressor involving their own infant. Women (n = 47) in a larger longitudinal study were assessed following the birth of their infant from 3 to 18 months postnatal. They reported childhood maltreatment history at 3 months and participated in a dyadic stress task with their infant at 12 months, at which time four salivary cortisol samples were collected to assess HPA response. Depression and anxiety symptoms at 18 months (controlling for symptom levels reported at 12 months) served as the primary outcome. Multilevel modeling was used to estimate both levels and dynamics of women’s cortisol response trajectories. Tests of indirect effects revealed a significant effect of total Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) scores on anxiety symptoms and a marginally significant effect on depression symptoms. Follow-up analyses with CTQ subscales revealed significant indirect effects of emotional and physical abuse on women’s ongoing anxiety symptoms via more pronounced cortisol reactivity curves during the mother-infant stressor. We discuss methodological choices that may have allowed these effects to be detected in the present study and implications for stress-related risk and intervention.
Amygdala and prefrontal cortex activity varies with individual differences in the emotional response to psychosocial stress.
Background: Stress elicits a variety of psychophysiological responses that show large interindividual variability. Determining the neural mechanisms that mediate individual differences in the emotional response to stress would provide new insight that would have important implications for understanding stress-related disorders. Therefore, the present study examined individual differences in the relationship between brain activity and the emotional response to stress. In the largest stress study to date, 239 participants completed the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST) while heart rate, skin conductance response (SCR), cortisol, self-reported stress, and blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) functional MRI (fMRI) signal responses were measured. The relationship between differential responses (heart rate, SCR, cortisol, and self-reported stress) and differential BOLD fMRI data was analyzed. Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), dorsomedial PFC, ventromedial PFC, and amygdala activity varied with the behavioral response (i.e., SCR and self-reported stress). These results suggest the PFC and amygdala support processes that are important for the expression and regulation of the emotional response to stress, and that stress-related PFC and amygdala activity underlie interindividual variability in peripheral physiologic measures of the stress response.
Mother-child adrenocortical synchrony: Roles of maternal overcontrol and child developmental phase.
Background: An increasing amount of empirical attention is focused on adrenocortical synchrony as an index of biobehavioral co-regulation between parent and child in the context of early child development. Working with an ethnically diverse community sample of children (N = 99, 50.5% male, ages 9-12), we collected saliva samples from mother-child dyads prior to and after a laboratory-based performance challenge task, and tested whether maternal overcontrol and child age moderated dyadic synchrony in cortisol. Results revealed that cortisol levels between mothers and children were significantly positively correlated at pretask for dyads with mean age and older children only, at 25-min post-task for all dyads, and at 45-min post-task for all dyads. Higher overcontrol/older child dyads exhibited a unique pattern of cortisol synchrony wherein at pretask, mother-child levels had the strongest positive correlation, whereas at 25 and 45 min, mother-child cortisol levels were significantly inversely correlated. These findings contribute to theory and research on parent-child relationships by examining parenting behavior, developmental stage, and adrenocortical synchrony in tandem.
Replication Pilot Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding and Cortisol Collection With Children on the Autism Spectrum.
Background: We aimed to determine whether results of our prior randomized control trial [RCT; NCT02301195, (1)] of Therapeutic Horseback Riding (THR) for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could be replicated at a different riding center and if treatment effects also included differences in the expression of associations between problem behavior and the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Participants with ASD (N = 16) ages 6-16 years were randomized by nonverbal intelligence quotient to either a 10-week THR group (n = 8) or no horse interaction barn activity (BA) control group (n = 8). Outcome measures were a standard speech-language sample and caregiver-report of aberrant and social behaviors. Participants’ saliva was sampled weekly at a consistent afternoon time immediately pre- and 20 min’ post-condition (later assayed for cortisol). Intent-to-treat analysis revealed that compared to controls, THR participants had significant improvements in hyperactivity, and social awareness, and significant improvements at the 0.1 significance level in irritability and social communication behaviors. There were no significant improvements in number of words or new words spoken during the standard language sample. Linear mixed effects model analysis indicated that greater weekly pre-lesson irritability levels were associated with smaller post-lesson reduction in salivary cortisol levels, and greater weekly pre-lesson hyperactivity levels were associated with smaller cortisol reduction in the THR group, but not in the BA control group. The findings represent a partial replication of prior results (1), extend prior observations to include THR effects on biobehavioral relationships and suggest that cortisol could be a target mediator for THR effects on irritability and hyperactivity behaviors in youth with ASD. Clinical Trial Registration: Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder; http://clinicaltrials.gov, identifier: NCT02301195.
Improving infants’ stress-induced cortisol regulation through attachment-based intervention: A randomized controlled trial.
Background: Attachment-based parenting interventions have shown positive effects on early cortisol regulation, a key biomarker. Evaluations to date have focused on diurnal cortisol production in high-risk infants. It is important to understand whether attachment-based intervention may also improve stress-induced cortisol production in typically developing infants. This randomized controlled trial tested an enhanced model of U.S. Early Head Start (EHS) services that combined home-based EHS with a brief, attachment-based parenting intervention, Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC). The trial included 153 low-income mothers and their infants (M age 12.4 months [SD = 4.1]). Control participants received home-based EHS plus 10 weekly books. Intent-to-treat analyses using multilevel models revealed a significant indirect intervention effect on infants’ rates of cortisol change in response to a series of mild stressors. The intervention increased maternal sensitivity, which in turn improved cortisol regulation, particularly infants’ rates of cortisol recovery. The findings illustrate the efficacy of EHS plus ABC for supporting infants’ stress-induced cortisol regulation and implicate sensitive maternal behavior as the underlying driver of the intervention effect. Findings are discussed in terms of the preventative value of attachment-based parenting interventions that improve both parenting and infants’ physiological regulation.