A longitudinal study of the effects of child-reported maternal warmth on cortisol stress response 15 years after parental divorce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objectives: The experience of parental divorce during childhood is associated with an increased risk of behavioral and physical health problems. Alterations in adrenocortical activity may be a mechanism in this relation. Parent-child relationships have been linked to cortisol regulation in children exposed to adversity, but prospective research is lacking.We examined maternal warmth in adolescence as a predictor of young adults' cortisol stress response 15 years after parental divorce. Methods: Participants included 240 youth from recently divorced families. Mother and child reports of maternal warmth were assessed at 6 time points across childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Offspring salivary cortisol was measured in young adulthood before and after a social stress task. Structural equation modeling was used to predict cortisol response from maternal warmth across early and late adolescence. Results: Higher child-reported maternal warmth in early adolescence predicted higher child-reported maternal warmth in late adolescence (standardized regression = 0.45, standard error = 0.065, p < .01), which predicted lower cortisol response to a challenging interpersonal task in young adulthood (standardized regression = -0.20, standard error = 0.094, p = .031). Neither mother-reported warmth in early adolescence nor late adolescence was significantly related to offspring cortisol response in young adulthood. Conclusions: Results suggest that for children from divorced families, a warm mother-child relationship after divorce and across development, as perceived by the child, may promote efficient biological regulation later in life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-170
Number of pages8
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Volume78
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2016

Keywords

  • Cortisol
  • Mother-child relationship
  • Parental divorce
  • Warmth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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