This study characterized the longitudinal evolution of HPA axis functioning from 7 to 16 months of age and identified individual and environmental factors that shape changes in HPA axis functioning over time. Participants were 167 mother-infant dyads drawn from a larger longitudinal study, recruited based on maternal history of being maltreated during childhood. Salivary cortisol levels were assessed before and after age-appropriate psychosocial stressors when infants were 7 and 16 months old. Maternal observed parenting and maternal reports of infant and environmental characteristics were obtained at 7 months and evaluated as predictors of changes in infant baseline cortisol and reactivity from 7 to 16 months. Results revealed that infants did not show a cortisol response at 7 months, but reactivity to psychosocial stress emerged by 16 months. Individual differences in cortisol baseline and reactivity levels over time were related to infant sex and maternal overcontrolling behaviors, underscoring the malleable and socially informed nature of early HPA axis functioning. Findings can inform prevention and intervention efforts to promote healthy stress regulation during infancy.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Developmental Biology
- Behavioral Neuroscience