Early Social Deprivation and the Social Buffering of Cortisol Stress Reponses in Late Childhood: An Experimental Study

Camelia E. Hostinar, A. E. Johnson, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The goal of the present study was to investigate the role of early social deprivation in shaping the effectiveness of parent support to alleviate hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis-stress responses of children (ages 8.9-11, M = 9.83 years, SD = .55). The sample was equally divided between children who had been adopted internationally from orphanage care by age 5 (n = 40) and an age- and gender-matched group of nonadopted (NA) children (n = 40). On average, internationally adopted children were invited to the laboratory 7.6 years postadoption (SD = 1.45). We experimentally manipulated the provision of parent support during the 5-min speech preparation period before a modified Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and examined its effect on levels of salivary cortisol secreted in response to this laboratory stressor. All participants were randomly assigned to receive support from their parent or a stranger. Analyses revealed a significant interaction of support condition and group such that parent support significantly dampened the cortisol-stress response in NA children compared with support from a stranger, whereas the cortisol response curves of postinstitutionalized (PI) children did not differ between the parent- and stranger-support conditions. Cortisol reactivity for PI children in both conditions was lower than that of NA children in the stranger-support condition. Social deprivation during the first few years of life may shape neurobehavioral development in ways that reduce selective responses to caregivers versus strangers. (PsycINFO Database Record

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1597-1608
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Psychological Association.


  • Cortisol
  • HPA axis
  • Parent support
  • Postinstitutionalized children
  • Stress

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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