Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chairperson

Eleanor Brown, PhD

Committee Member

Susan Gans, PhD

Committee Member

Megan Nolan, PhD


A robust research literature suggests that the impact of early adversity on child developmental outcomes is partially mediated or explained by the physiological stress response functioning. Economic hardship, for example, has been linked to dysregulation in levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as has negative parent emotion expression. Whereas a number of studies have examined links between parent depression and anxiety and child stress levels, the present study is the first we know of to examine parent anger in relation to child cortisol. Participants were 370 children attending Head Start preschool, and their parents or primary caregivers. According to federal guidelines, 80% of the families in our study were living in poverty, and 100% were low-income. Parents or primary caregivers reported on symptoms of anger using a well validated measure, and also provided demographic information. Children provided saliva samples at four times across the preschool day on two days at the start of the schoolyear and two days at the end of the year, and samples were assayed for levels of the stress hormone cortisol, with Area Under the Curve with Respect to Ground (AUCg) used to represent cortisol output across the preschool day. Linear regression analyses suggested that parent anger statistically predicted child cortisol output across the preschool day at the end of the year, controlling for start-of-year cortisol output as well as key demographic variables. By the end of the preschool year, children whose parents reported greater symptoms of anger showed higher stress levels within preschool context. Implications concern understanding the impact of parent anger on child stress levels and potential constraints on positive effects of Head Start preschool.