Attachment Security Moderates Effects of Uncontrollable Stress on Preadolescent Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal Axis Responses: Evidence of Regulatory Fit

Jason José Bendezú, John E. Loughlin-Presnal, Martha E. Wadsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This study examined whether perceived attachment security (i.e., perceptions of caregivers as responsive, available, and open to communication during times of need) and effortful coping work in concert to buffer against uncontrollable life event effects on hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA) response patterns in preadolescent boys and girls (N = 121, mean age = 10.60 years). Children completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and were immediately thereafter exposed to one of two randomly assigned coping conditions: distraction and avoidance. Piecewise growth multilevel modeling of children’s salivary cortisol levels over the course of the experimental protocol suggested that uncontrollable life events in the year prior were associated with exaggerated cortisol reactivity, though this pattern was buffered against by children’s secure attachment beliefs. Furthermore, perceived attachment security, uncontrollable life event, and coping condition interactive effects on cortisol recovery emerged. As expected, distraction supported efficient cortisol recovery for those uncontrollable stress-exposed children with secure beliefs, and avoidance worked in this fashion for those with insecure beliefs. Findings point to perceived attachment security as a putative buffer of stress-exposed preadolescents’ HPA reactivity and possible contributor to regulatory fit, informing how specific coping skills work or backfire in supporting these children’s HPA recovery efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1355-1371
Number of pages17
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Volume7
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology

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