Quality of care and temperament determine changes in cortisol concentrations over the day for young children in childcare

A. C. Dettling, S. W. Parker, S. Lane, A. Sebanc, M. R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

191 Scopus citations


The current study investigated whether patterns of cortisol production in preschool-aged children in group care were influenced by characteristics such as group size, adult:child ratio, separation from family/parents, and quality of attention and stimulation from the childcare provider. Data were obtained from preschoolers attending home-based childcare. Cortisol levels were sampled at home and at childcare. Parents and teachers assessed the child's temperament (CBQ, TBQ). At childcare, the children were observed using the Observational Ratings of the Caregiving Environment (ORCE). Childcare characteristics were independent of family or child characteristics. In home-based childcare, children's cortisol patterns over the day correlated significantly with the amount of attention and stimulation provided by the childcare provider. Using a median split on the quality index measure of focused attention/stimulation, children in settings that were above the median exhibited no change in cortisol from home to childcare, while those in settings below the median exhibited a reversal of the typical pattern of cortisol production from morning to afternoon. At home these children exhibited the expected decrease in cortisol from morning to afternoon. Patterns of cortisol production at childcare were also correlated with child temperament with larger increases from morning to afternoon for more emotionally negative children and those with less self-control. Finally, cortisol production in home-based childcare was compared to data from children in center-based childcare and children not enrolled in full-day childcare. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-836
Number of pages18
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank to the childcare providers, teachers, parents and children who helped with this research. We are grateful to Tanja Sponem for helping with recruitment of participants and collecting data, Pat Larson and Mary Fowler of the Endocrine Laboratory at the University of Minnesota for analyzing the saliva samples and the many undergraduates who helped with this study. This research was supported by a grant for postdoctoral studies of the National Science Foundation, Switzerland, awarded to Andrea C. Dettling, a graduate fellowship of the National Science Foundation, USA, awarded to Susan W. Parker, and the National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Award (MH00946), and the McKnight–University Professorship Award of the University of Minnesota, and a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Development (HD16494) to Megan R. Gunnar.


  • Childcare
  • Children
  • Cortisol
  • Family and child characteristics
  • Preschoolers
  • Quality


Dive into the research topics of 'Quality of care and temperament determine changes in cortisol concentrations over the day for young children in childcare'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this