Early deprivation and home basal cortisol levels: A study of internationally adopted children

Darlene A. Kertes, Megan R. Gunnar, Nicole J. Madsen, Jeffrey D. Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Animal studies reveal that early deprivation impairs regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, potentially increasing vulnerability to stressors throughout life. To examine early deprivation effects on basal HPA axis activity in humans, basal cortisol levels were examined in 164 internationally adopted children who had experienced varying degrees of preadoption deprivation. Duration of institutional care, age at adoption, and parent ratings of preadoption neglect indexed a latent factor of Deprived Care. Adoption measures of height and weight standardized to World Health Organisation norms indexed a latent factor of Growth Delay that was viewed as another reflection of deprivation. Cortisol samples were collected 3.3-11.6 years postadoption (Md = 7.3 years) at home on 3 days approximately 30 min after wakeup and before bedtime. Both early a.m. levels and the decrease in cortisol across the day were examined. A structural equation model revealed that preadoption Deprived Care predicted Growth Delay at adoption and Growth Delay predicted higher morning cortisol levels and a larger diurnal cortisol decrease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-491
Number of pages19
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


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