Lifetime stressors, hair cortisol, and executive function: Age-related associations in childhood

Carrie E. DePasquale, Fanita A. Tyrell, Amanda W. Kalstabakken, Madelyn H. Labella, Eric L. Thibodeau, Ann S. Masten, Andrew J. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Extant research is mixed regarding the relations among lifetime exposure to stressors, adrenocortical activity, and executive function (EF), particularly in children. Aggregate measures of adrenocortical activity like hair cortisol concentration (HCC), timing of stress exposure, and age at assessment may clarify these associations. This cross-sectional study examined the association among parent-reported exposure to stressors, hair cortisol concentration (HCC), and children's EF via a tablet task in a community sample (n = 318, 52.5% female) of children across a wide age range (4–13 years, M = 9.4, SD = 2.3). Path analyses revealed that parent-reported child lifetime exposure to stressors, but not past-year stressful life events, negatively predicted HCC. There was also a marginally significant moderation by age such that HCC was associated negatively with EF for younger children (age < 9.7 years) but not older children. HCC did not significantly mediate the association between lifetime exposure to stressors and EF. Findings are consistent with the proposition that chronically high cortisol production has a neurotoxic effect on brain regions supporting EF. However, lifetime exposure to stressors predicted relatively lower cumulative cortisol production, consistent with a stress inoculation effect in this normative-risk sample.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1043-1052
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Volume63
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 22 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thank you to the many students, including Jillian Merrick, who contributed greatly to the project; Dr. Clemens Kirschbaum and his laboratory for technical assistance with hair cortisol sampling. Also, thank you to all of the families who participated; University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics Driven to Discover Grant; National Institute for Mental Health training grant (T32 MH015755) to CED and FAT. Dedication: During the process of revising this manuscript, we experienced the devastating loss of Dr. Carrie DePasquale at the age of 26. Carrie was a brilliant scholar and one of the youngest recipients of a doctoral degree in the history of the Institute of Child Development. She had recently been awarded a prestigious F32 grant from NIH on its first submission. Carrie was passionate about her research, family, and friends, and a strong advocate for social justice. This publication is dedicated to her memory, exceptional scholarship, and friendship.

Funding Information:
Thank you to the many students, including Jillian Merrick, who contributed greatly to the project; Dr. Clemens Kirschbaum and his laboratory for technical assistance with hair cortisol sampling. Also, thank you to all of the families who participated; University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics Driven to Discover Grant; National Institute for Mental Health training grant (T32 MH015755) to CED and FAT.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC

Keywords

  • development
  • executive function
  • hair cortisol
  • stress

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