The relations between social behavior and daily patterns of a stress-sensitive hormone production were examined in preschool children (N = 75) attending center-based child care. Three behavioral dimensions, shy/ anxious/internalizing, angry/aggressive/externalizing, and social competence, were assessed by teacher report and classroom observation, and their relations with 2 measures of cortisol activity, median (or typical) levels and reactivity (quartile range score between second and third quartile values) were explored. Cortisol-behavior relations differed by gender: significant associations were found for boys but not for girls. Specifically, for boys externalizing behavior was positively associated with cortisol reactivity, while internalizing behavior was negatively associated with median cortisol. Time of day of cortisol measurement affected the results. Surprisingly, median cortisol levels rose from morning to afternoon, a pattern opposite to that of the typical circadian rhythm of cortisol. This rise in cortisol over the day was positively correlated with internalizing behavior for boys. The methodological and theoretical implications of these findings for the study of the development of hormone-behavior relations are discussed.
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|Published - Oct 1998