To explore the possibility that children's adrenocortical reactions to parent-child conflict influence their vulnerability for internalising behaviour problems, we studied 62 mother-child dyads from the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project. Standardised measures of maternal, child, and family adjustment were collected. Mother's and children's saliva was sampled before and after a conflict-oriented mother-child interaction task and was later assayed for cortisol. The children's pre-task cortisol scores were negatively associated with their internalising behaviour problems, their mother's childhood levels of socially withdrawn behaviour and current psychosocial problems, as well as dimensions of family environment representing the open expression of aggression, anger, and conflict. Children's cortisol levels after the interaction task were lowest for those raised by mothers with high childhood levels of aggressive behaviour problems, and in family environments characterised by rigid rules. Interrelationships between mother and child pre- and post-task cortisol levels were associated with maternal levels of childhood behaviour problems. The integration of measures of children's adrenocortical activity into developmental studies of children at risk for psychosocial problems may reveal important clues regarding the processes by which adverse early rearing environments affect children's internalising problem behaviour.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Life-span and Life-course Studies