Research on stress-sensitive biological systems has typically focused on activation at one time, yet recent theories emphasize dynamic, context-specific adaptation. This study tested hypothesized calibration of one such system by examining both mean levels and longitudinal stability of daily cortisol-reflecting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation-in children exposed to high-risk versus lower-risk caregiving contexts. Context-specific effects of longitudinal cortisol profiles were addressed via relations with child psychiatric symptoms. Children from regular foster care, foster children participating in a family-based intervention, and community comparison children (n=96 total) collected saliva samples for cortisol assay at 29 timepoints across 6+ years. High-risk (regular foster care) children showed lower and more variable cortisol levels than their lower-risk (treatment foster care, community comparison) counterparts. For the high-risk children only, higher and more stable cortisol related to elevated anxiety symptoms. Implications for contextual calibration of stress systems and family intervention mechanisms are discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Developmental Biology
- Behavioral Neuroscience