Understanding Relations Among Early Family Environment, Cortisol Response, and Child Aggression via a Prevention Experiment


  • This research was supported in part by a NARSAD Young Investigator Award to the first author and a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH R01 MH55188) to the second author. We acknowledge the research staff of the Institute for Prevention Science, Tom Cooper and staff of the Nathan Kline Institute for assistance with the processing of cortisol assays, and the families and children who participated. We would also like to acknowledge the substantial contributions that Drs. Rachel Klein, Eva Petkova, and Patrick Shrout have made to this research.

concerning this article should be addressed to Colleen R. O'Neal or Laurie Miller Brotman, NYU Child Study Center, NYU School of Medicine, 215 Lexington Avenue, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Electronic mail may be sent to onealc01@nyumc.org or millel02@nyumc.org.


This study examined relations among family environment, cortisol response, and behavior in the context of a randomized controlled trial with 92 children (= 48 months) at risk for antisocial behavior. Previously, researchers reported an intervention effect on cortisol response in anticipation of a social challenge. The current study examined whether changes in cortisol response were related to later child aggression. Among lower warmth families, the intervention effect on aggression was largely mediated by the intervention effect on cortisol response. Although the intervention also resulted in significant benefits on child engaging behavior, cortisol response did not mediate this effect. These findings demonstrate meaningful associations between cortisol response and aggression among children at familial risk for antisocial behavior.