Background: Around 40% of children in the US face economic hardship. Related stressors influence physiological functioning and brain development, with implications for cognitive and social-emotional functioning. The hormone cortisol indicates stress levels, yet because cortisol responses to current stressors are imposed on baseline levels, the meaning of cortisol as measured on a particular occasion often is unclear: both elevated and depressed cortisol levels can indicate problematic dysregulation. The present study aims to elucidate how cortisol levels relate to expressed emotion for children attending Head Start preschool. Participants: Participants included 70 children attending a Head Start preschool in Philadelphia, PA. Mean age was 4 years, 1 month, and 52.3% were female, 54.5% Black/African American, 15.2% Latino/Hispanic American, 10.3% Asian American, and 20.0% Caucasian/European American. Procedure: Ethical standards were followed, and all procedures were approved by the WCU IRB. The study included: (1) parent demographic interviews at the start of the school year; (2) measurement of child cortisol levels via salivary assay at four times of day on six different days across the school year; (3) coding of children’s emotion expression in their preschool classes directly prior to the measurement of cortisol, using a well validated observational system called AFFEX (Izard, Dougherty, & Hembree, 1989). Results and implications: Preliminary zero-order correlational analyses indicated that children’s expression of sadness was uniquely correlated with elevations in cortisol. No significant relations were indicated for other types of emotion expression. Implications concern understanding how child cortisol levels relate to observed emotions in preschool context.
Yost, C., Malatesta, J., Allen, A., Weaver, Z., Hennesey, K., Landis-Rotondi, K., & Garnett, M. (2021). Stress Hormone Cortisol relates to Emotion Expression for Young Children facing Economic Hardship. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.wcupa.edu/psych_stuwork/22