Early Family and Child-Care Antecedents of Awakening Cortisol Levels in Adolescence


  • The last four named authors have been listed alphabetically as each contributed equally to this report.

  • This study is directed by a Steering Committee and supported by NICHD through a cooperative agreement (U10), which calls for scientific collaboration between the grantees and the NICHD staff. The content is solely the responsibility of the named authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institutes of Health, or individual members of the Network. Current members of the Steering Committee of the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, listed in alphabetical order, are: Jay Belsky (Birkbeck University of London), Cathryn Booth-LaForce (University of Washington), Robert H. Bradley (Arizona State University), Celia A. Brownell (University of Pittsburgh), Margaret Burchinal (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Susan B. Campbell (University of Pittsburgh), Elizabeth Cauffman (University of California, Irvine), Alison Clarke-Stewart (University of California, Irvine), Martha Cox (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Robert Crosnoe (University of Texas at Austin), James A. Griffin (NICHD Project Scientist and Scientific Coordinator), Bonnie Halpern-Felsher (University of California, San Francisco), Willard Hartup (University of Minnesota), Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University), Daniel Keating (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Bonnie Knoke (RTI International), Tama Leventhal (Tufts University), Kathleen McCartney (Harvard University), Vonnie C. McLoyd (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Fred Morrison (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Philip Nader (University of California, San Diego), Marion O’Brien (University of North Carolina, Greensboro), Margaret Tresch Owen (University of Texas at Dallas), Ross Parke (University of California, Riverside), Robert Pianta (University of Virginia), Kim M. Pierce (University of Wisconsin-Madison), A. Vijaya Rao (RTI International), Glenn I. Roisman (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Susan Spieker (University of Washington), Laurence Steinberg (Temple University), Elizabeth Susman (Pennsylvania State University), Deborah Lowe Vandell (University of California, Irvine), and Marsha Weinraub (Temple University).

concerning this article should be addressed to Glenn I. Roisman, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 603 East Daniel Street, Champaign, IL 61820. Electronic mail may be sent to roisman@uiuc.edu.


This study examined early observed parenting and child-care experiences in relation to functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis over the long term. Consistent with the attenuation hypothesis, individuals (= 863) who experienced: (a) higher levels of maternal insensitivity and (b) more time in child-care centers in the first 3 years of life had lower awakening cortisol levels at age 15. Associations were small in magnitude. Nonetheless, results were (a) additive in that both higher levels of maternal insensitivity and more experience with center-based care uniquely (but not interactively) predicted lower awakening cortisol, (b) not accounted for by later caregiving experiences measured concurrently with awakening cortisol at age 15 or by early demographic variables, and (c) not moderated by sex or by difficult temperament.