Social Behavior Correlates of Cortisol Activity in Child Care: Gender Differences and Time-of-Day Effects

Kathryn Tout, Michelle De Haan, Elizabeth Kipp Campbell, Megan R Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1247-1262
Number of pages16
JournalChild development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1998


Dive into the research topics of 'Social Behavior Correlates of Cortisol Activity in Child Care: Gender Differences and Time-of-Day Effects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this