Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety
Cortisol synchrony within mother-child dyads, or mutual regulation of cortisol levels, is crucial in the development of the child’s physiological regulation (Feldman, 2012). Some studies find mothers are more synchronous with their children when they are more sensitive (van Bakel et al., 2008), while others find that synchrony in mother-child dyads is maladaptive when the cortisol responses are extreme (Ouellette et al., 2015). The proposed research employs a person-centered approach to examine how both cortisol synchrony and level function as a context in which child development occurs.
Mother-toddler dyads participated in a laboratory visit when the toddler was 1 year old. Each member of the dyad provided three saliva samples throughout the duration of the visit: once after a short acclimation period of the lab, a midvisit sample following a novelty episode, and a postvisit sample following a brief separation. Mothers also completed a battery of questionnaires when their toddlers were 1 and 2 years old, reporting on their overprotection (Child Rearing Practices Report, Dekovic et al., 1991) and their children’s separation anxiety (Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Assessment, Carter et al., 2003).
A latent profile analysis was used to determine the number of profiles that best accounted for variability within mother and child cortisol samples. A three-class model was favored over other models due to low BIC (44.236), significantly better fit than a two-profile model (Adjusted Lo-Mendell-Rubin = 89.59, p=.007), and acceptable entropy (0.86). The three-class solution revealed a “synchronous at low cortisol levels” profile (i.e., profile 1) and a “synchronous at high cortisol levels” profile (i.e., profile 3) where maternal and child cortisol levels did not differ significantly from each other within profile (profile 1: t=0.34, p=.733; profile 3: t=-0.35, p=.736). One asynchronous profile (i.e., profile 2) emerged where mother and toddler values differed significantly from each other (t=4.28, p=.000), with toddlers demonstrating greater cortisol than mothers, on average.
Profile of cortisol synchrony moderated the relation between maternal overprotection at age 1 and toddler separation distress at age 2 (ΔR2 = -.08, p = .045). Specifically, overprotection significantly predicted increased separation anxiety at age 2 for the asynchronous group only (t=2.51, p=.014). Overprotection was not associated with future separation anxiety in children for the synchronous groups of cortisol (profile 1: t = -0.68, p = .497; profile 3: t =-0.48, p=.633). Results suggest that synchronous cortisol activity, regardless of level, provides a context of adaptive development, whereas asynchronous cortisol functioning in mothers and toddlers serves as a context in which maladaptive parenting is associated with future child anxiety.