Cortisol Reactivity Is Positively Related to Executive Function in Preschool Children Attending Head Start


  • The authors' research and scholarly activities are supported, in part, by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grants R03 HD39750 and P01 HD39667.
    Thanks are due to Cathy Jantzer, Rebecca Holland, Tanja Rothrauff, and Katie Kivlighan for their assistance with this work. Dr. Granger holds an equity interest in Salimetrics LLC (State College, PA), the company that performed the assay of the saliva samples.

concerning this article should be sent to Clancy Blair, Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, 110 Henderson South, University Park, PA 16802-6504. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study examined relations among cortisol reactivity and measures of cognitive function and social behavior in 4- to 5-year-old children (N=169) attending Head Start. Saliva samples for the assay of cortisol were collected at the beginning, middle, and end of an approximately 45-min testing session. Moderate increase in cortisol followed by down-regulation of this increase was positively associated with measures of executive function, self-regulation, and letter knowledge but not with measures of receptive vocabulary, emotion knowledge, or false belief understanding. Regression analysis indicates that executive function accounted for the association between cortisol reactivity and self-regulation and letter knowledge.