Examining the role of socioeconomic status and temperament in the hair cortisol levels of infants

Zeynep Ertekin, Sibel K. Berument, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Socioeconomic status (SES) appears to be an important contextual factor in children's developmental outcomes, including their responses to stress. However, some children are more susceptible to its effects than others. Hair cortisol is a newer method of assessing the activity of the HPA axis, providing cumulative cortisol levels. The present article examined whether temperament (negative emotionality) moderates the association between an SES index and the hair cortisol concentration (HCC) of infants. Sixty infants from 6 to 15 months of age were recruited, of which 49 had sufficient hair for cortisol analysis. The SES index was calculated from the education levels of the mothers, family income, and a scale measuring the quality of the home environment. Negative emotionality was measured with the three sub-scales of the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (falling reactivity, distress to limitations, and fear). Among infants low in negative emotionality, there was no association between SES and cortisol. In contrast, among those high in negative emotionality, a significant association was obtained. These infants showed lower levels of HCC in lower-SES environments. The findings suggest that there are individual differences in reacting to the environment, and low levels of cortisol (not high) were found in susceptible infants in lower-SES families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-41
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 9 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge Amanda Tarullo for providing the hair collection protocol and Amanda Tarullo and Bonny Donzella for their consultancy on that topic. We also thank all the children and their mothers who participated in this study. This study was supported by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) with the Patrice L. Engle Dissertation Grant in 2018.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC


  • SES
  • hair cortisol
  • negative emotionality
  • temperament


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