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Peer Rejection and HPA Activity in Middle Childhood: Friendship Makes a Difference


  • This study was supported by NWO Grant 400-04-060 from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research to the second author. The authors are grateful to the children, parents, and teachers who participated in this study.

concerning this article should be addressed to Marianne Riksen-Walraven, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, PO Box 9104, 6500 HE, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Electronic mail may be sent to


Exclusion and victimization by classmates were related to levels and diurnal change in cortisol in 97 fourth graders (53% boys, = 9.3 years). Number and quality of friendships were considered as moderators. Salivary cortisol was collected 5 times daily on 2 school days. Excluded children had elevated cortisol levels at school and a flattened diurnal cortisol curve, suggesting hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis dysregulation. This effect was weaker for children with more friends or better friendships. Victimization was not associated with cortisol level or change. The results demonstrate the role of HPA activity in peer group processes and indicate that group and dyadic factors interact in predicting stress in the peer group.