Affective attunement in peer dyads containing children adopted from institutions

Carrie E. DePasquale, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Children who have experienced institutional care early in life tend to show deficits in behavioral and adrenocortical regulation that impact their ability to form friendships and have positive social interactions with peers. Understanding how post-institutionalized children interact with unfamiliar peers and the factors that predict the quality of these interactions may shed light on the processes contributing to the persistent, often increasing social deficits seen in post-institutionalized children. In this study, one child (either post-institutionalized or non-adopted; the “target”) interacted with another non-adopted child (the “peer”; N = 58 dyads, M age = 9.65 years) through a series of competitive and cooperative games during which interaction quality and affect of each participant were coded. Three saliva samples were also collected from each participant to measure cortisol production across the session. No group differences in behavior, affect, or cortisol were found. However, non-adopted target children's affect was positively associated with their peers’ affect and negatively associated with peers’ change in cortisol across the session, while post-institutionalized target children's affect was not associated with their peers’ affect or cortisol. Thus, future interventions may want to promote social skills in children exposed to early adversity by focusing on dyadic social contingencies rather than individual behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-211
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the International Adoption Project and the families for their participation. Thank you to Anna Parenteau for help with data collection Kelly Dwyer and Anna Jacobsen for video coding assistance. Grant support was provided by the Institute of Child Development and Center for Neurobehavioral Development (University of Minnesota), and by NIMH T32 MH015755 (to CED). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the views of the National Institutes of Health.


  • affect
  • behavior
  • cortisol
  • institutional care
  • social interaction


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