Associations between stress reactivity and behavior problems for previously institutionalized youth across puberty

Nicole B. Perry, Carrie E. Depasquale, Bonny Donzella, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Megan Gunnar's pubertal stress recalibration hypothesis was supported in a recent study of previously institutionalized (PI) youth such that increases in pubertal stage were associated with increases in cortisol stress reactivity. This work provides evidence that puberty may open up a window of recalibration for PI youth, resulting in a shift from a blunted to a more typical cortisol stress response. Using the same sample (N = 132), the current study aimed to elucidate whether increases in cortisol are associated with increases in adaptive functioning or whether they further underlie potential links to developmental psychopathology. Specifically, we examined the bidirectional associations between cortisol stress reactivity and both internalizing and externalizing symptoms across three timepoints during the pubertal period. Youth reported on their own internalizing symptoms and parents reported on youths' externalizing symptoms. Cortisol reactivity was assessed during the Trier social stress test. Analyses revealed no associations between cortisol reactivity and externalizing symptoms across puberty for PI youth. However, longitudinal bidirectional associations did emerge for internalizing symptoms such that increases in cortisol reactivity predicted increases in internalizing symptoms and increases in internalizing symptoms predicted increases in cortisol reactivity. Findings suggest that recalibrating to more normative levels of cortisol reactivity may not always be associated with adaptive outcomes for PI youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1854-1863
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding Statement. This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development through the National Institutes of Health [5R01 HD075349] to the final author.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 Cambridge University Press.


  • cortisol
  • externalizing
  • institutions
  • internalizing
  • puberty
  • stress

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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