Identifying atypical cortisol patterns in young children: The benefits of group-based trajectory modeling

Mark J. Van Ryzin, Melissa Chatham, Erin Kryzer, Darlene A. Kertes, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The introduction of growth curve modeling into the field of neuroendocrinology has enabled researchers to examine mean patterns of change in unbalanced and/or incomplete repeated measures data. However, growth curve modeling assumes population homogeneity, or that all individuals follow roughly the same pattern of change, with differences expressed as deviation around the mean curve. Group-based trajectory modeling, in contrast, is designed for heterogeneous populations and as a result is able to identify atypical patterns of change over time that may exist within a population. To illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of each technique, we apply both to a sample of diurnal cortisol data measured at home in young children (N = 106, 46 male, M age = 3.81 years, S.D. = 0.24). We find three distinct trajectories of cortisol and demonstrate that the members of these trajectories are measurably different in terms of cortisol levels across context and time and in terms of the relationship between behavioral problems and parenting. At the same time, our growth curve analysis finds differential response patterns for high vs. low internalizing children with high vs. low parenting quality. We discuss these results in terms of their implications for the proper application of each method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-61
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD16494), a grant from the National Institutes of Health (M01-RR00400), and a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Award (MH066208) to Megan R. Gunnar. The NIMH had no further role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, in the writing of the report, or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.


  • Behavioral problems
  • Cortisol
  • Group-based trajectory modeling
  • Growth curve modeling
  • Linear mixed modeling
  • Parenting quality


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