Individual differences in children’s cortisol response to the beginning of a new school year

Jacqueline Bruce, Elysia Poggi Davis, R. Megan Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


The relationship between salivary cortisol levels at the beginning of the school year and parent reports of temperament using the Children’s Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ) were investigated in 35 first graders. Cortisol was sampled in the morning, afternoon, and evening on the first and fifth days of school and two weekend days later in the school year. On the first day of school compared to weekend days, children displayed a steeper cortisol slope across the day due to lower afternoon and evening levels. By the fifth day of school, cortisol levels, on average, were not different than on weekend days. However, using change scores to reflect the response to school days relative to weekend days, children who scored higher in Surgency (i.e., enjoyment of intense play, high activity level, impulsivity, lack of shyness) continued to display a steeper cortisol slope on the fifth day of school with higher morning and lower evening cortisol levels. In contrast, shyness, which negatively contributes to Surgency, was positively correlated with evening change scores on the fifth day of school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-650
Number of pages16
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH56958) to Megan R. Gunnar. Portions of this data were presented at the 1999 annual meeting of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology. The authors wish to express their gratitude to the families who helped with this research. Thanks are also expressed to Mary Fowler and Linda Bailey of the Endocrine Laboratory at that University of Minnesota for their careful analysis of the salivary cortisol data.


  • Children
  • Cortisol
  • Normative challenge
  • Shyness
  • Surgency
  • Temperament


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