Child anxiety symptoms related to longitudinal cortisol trajectories and acute stress responses: Evidence of developmental stress sensitization

Heidemarie K. Laurent, Kathryn S. Gilliam, Dorianne B. Wright, Philip A. Fisher

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32 Scopus citations


Cross-sectional research suggests that individuals at risk for internalizing disorders show differential activation levels and/or dynamics of stress-sensitive physiological systems, possibly reflecting a process of stress sensitization. However, there is little longitudinal research to clarify how the development of these systems over time relates to activation during acute stress, and how aspects of such activation map onto internalizing symptoms. We investigated children's (n = 107) diurnal hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal activity via salivary cortisol (morning and evening levels) across 29 assessments spanning 6 years, and related longitudinal patterns to acute stress responses at the end of this period (age 9-10). Associations with child psychiatric symptoms at age 10 were also examined to determine internalizing risk profiles. Increasing morning cortisol levels across assessments predicted less of a cortisol decline following interpersonal stress at age 9, and higher cortisol levels during performance stress at age 10. These same profiles of high and/or sustained cortisol elevation during psychosocial stress were associated with child anxiety symptoms. Results suggest developmental sensitization to stress-reflected in rising morning cortisol and eventual hyperactivation during acute stress exposure-may distinguish children at risk for internalizing disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-79
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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