Behavioral reactivity to emotion challenge is associated with cortisol reactivity and regulation at 7, 15, and 24 months of age

Alexandra Ursache, Clancy Blair, Douglas A. Granger, Cynthia Stifter, Kristin Voegtline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


Emotionally arousing stimuli have been largely unsuccessful in eliciting cortisol responses in young children. Whether or not emotion challenge will elicit a cortisol response, however, may in part be determined by the extent to which the tasks elicit behavioral reactivity and regulation. We examined relations of behavioral reactivity and regulation to emotional arousal in the context of fear and frustration to the cortisol response at 7, 15, and 24 months of age in a low income, rural population based sample of 1,292 families followed longitudinally from birth. At each age, children participated in fear and frustration inducing tasks, and cortisol samples were taken at three time points (before the tasks began, 20min following peak emotional arousal or after the series of tasks ended, and 40min after peak arousal or the tasks ended) in order to capture both increases (reactivity) and subsequent decreases (regulation) in the cortisol response. Using multilevel models, we predicted the cortisol response from measures of behavioral reactivity and regulation. At 7 months of age, cortisol reactivity and recovery were related to behavioral reactivity during a frustration-eliciting task and marginally related to behavioral reactivity during a fear-eliciting task. At 15 and 24 months of age, however, cortisol reactivity and recovery were related only to behavioral reactivity during a fear-eliciting task. Results indicate that while behavioral reactivity is predictive of whether or not infants and young children will exhibit a cortisol response to emotionally arousing tasks, behavioral and cortisol reactivity are not necessarily coupled.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)474-488
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes



  • Cortisol
  • Emotion
  • HPA axis
  • Infant
  • Reactivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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