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HPA axis linkage in parent-child dyads: Effects of parent sex, autism spectrum diagnosis, and dyadic relationship behavior

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Abstract

Families of preschoolers participated in two dyadic home visits, once with mother (56 dyads) and once with father (59 dyads). Each member of the dyad provided three cortisol samples and participated in several interaction tasks that were behaviorally coded. Approximately half of the children had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), whereas half were typically developing (TD). In a multilevel model, father's cortisol level at each timepoint predicted child cortisol. Father-child linkage was stronger in dyads that showed less reciprocity, in which fathers showed less sensitivity, and in which children showed less self-regulation and more withdrawal. Cortisol levels were not significantly correlated in mother-child dyads, and there was a trend toward moderation by ASD diagnosis, such that linkage was greater in TD children. Mother-child linkage was stronger in dyads that showed less behavioral coordination and less sensitivity. HPA axis linkage may be stronger in less behaviorally attuned dyads.

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... The samples of the current review considered children in the preschool range of age. Three studies considered children from 24 to 71 months of age [57][58][59]. One study took into account an age range from 32 to 76 months [60]. ...
... All studies apart from two [59,63] reported information about the gender of the children with ASD. The samples were largely composed of males in all studies, except [18], in which only 48.2% of children with ASD were males. ...
... A large majority of the studies considered in this systematic review include a control group. N = 7 studies referred to the comparison between fathers and mothers in interaction with their preschool children [10,19,57,59,[62][63][64]. Other studies took into consideration both fathers and mothers of children with ASD and of children with typical development [16,61]. ...
Article
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Studies on parental interaction in the context of ASD has mainly focused on mothers, even if fathers and their children seem to form close and supportive relationships that may have unique effects on child development. Given the impact of ASD symptoms on a child’s ability to interact with significant others, recent findings strengthen the importance of including caregivers during treatment to guarantee a better adaptation to the child’s impairments. Despite this, fathers are scarcely involved, and interventions seem to not be tailored to their interactive characteristics and needs. For this reason, a systematic review was conducted to investigate fathers and children with ASD behaviors during interaction. This review found 12 observational studies that identified social, cognitive, and affective interactive modalities in father–child dyads through three psychology-focused journal databases: PubMed, PsycINFO and Scopus. The significant variation in both sample size and in the measures used to assess dyadic outcomes limits the ability of this work to make robust recommendations for intervention. Despite this, the results revealed characteristic behaviors of this dyad that consequently allow specific targets to be worked on during intervention. In fact, from fathers’ individual strengths and weaknesses, it is possible to implement interventions that are complementary with maternal characteristics from the perspective of personalized and optimized treatment.
... This finding implies that despite the finding that children with ASD manifest attachment behaviors in response to stressful situations, some of the adaptive benefits of attachment security with regard to emotion regulation are not fully developed in these children. This hypothesis is further investigated in studies of parental stress buffering mechanisms as described below [43,44]. ...
... Closely linked cortisol levels between members of a parent-child dyad indicate similar stress levels and are considered to be indicators of less effective ER by the parent. That is, child distress and parental distress are mirroring each other rather than parent down-regulating and soothing child stress responses [43]. Two groups of preschoolers (TD and those with ASD) were seen with each parent for a series of play activities. ...
... Two groups of preschoolers (TD and those with ASD) were seen with each parent for a series of play activities. Examination of the linkage between cortisol levels of children with ASD and their parents, show different results for mothers and fathers [43]. For all children, paternal cortisol levels predicted child cortisol levels indicating less effective ER by fathers overall. ...
Article
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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders in which multiple genetic and environmental factors play roles. Symptoms of deficits in social communication and restrictive, repetitive behavioral patterns emerge early in a child's development. While parents do not cause these difficulties, impairments in social relatedness can strain parent child interactions and parental stress can have negative transactional effects that impede children development. Conversely, as with typically developing children, parental behavior can also enhance development in ASD and parents play a role in many interventions. In this review we examine parental contributions to the development of children with ASD, focusing on social communication and emotion regulation. We address parent and family characteristics that may impede development so they can be identified in families and interventions developed to target them.
... As positive parenting and the expression of the species- typical maternal behavior shape maturation of children's stress response and predict psychopathology (Kuhlman, Olson, & LopezDuran, 2014;Silk et al., 2007), the reduction in positive parenting can impact child symptom formation as mediated by HPA-axis dysfunc- tion. Furthermore, through mechanisms of "adrenocortical synchrony" (Feldman, 2016;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017) or "CT linkage" (Saxbe et al., 2017), the concordance between maternal and child's CT levels, the depressed mother's HPA-axis dysfunctions are transferred to the child. CT linkage is found across development, in infancy (Tarullo, Moore, John, & Meyer, 2017), childhood ( Williams et al., 2013), and adolescence (Papp, Pendry, & Adam, 2009) and is related to sensitive parenting that mediates the child's CT response (Feldman, Gordon, Influs, Gutbir, & Ebstein, 2013;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017;Saxbe et al., 2017;Thompson & Trevathan, 2008). ...
... Furthermore, through mechanisms of "adrenocortical synchrony" (Feldman, 2016;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017) or "CT linkage" (Saxbe et al., 2017), the concordance between maternal and child's CT levels, the depressed mother's HPA-axis dysfunctions are transferred to the child. CT linkage is found across development, in infancy (Tarullo, Moore, John, & Meyer, 2017), childhood ( Williams et al., 2013), and adolescence (Papp, Pendry, & Adam, 2009) and is related to sensitive parenting that mediates the child's CT response (Feldman, Gordon, Influs, Gutbir, & Ebstein, 2013;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017;Saxbe et al., 2017;Thompson & Trevathan, 2008). This suggests that mater- nal CT levels should be considered when testing the mediating role of child CT on risk and resilience. ...
Article
Whether infancy-onset trichotillomania is best regarded as a habit, an early sign of obsessive compulsive disorder, a symptom of anxiety, or a sign of severe deprivation has been a topic of continuous debate. In this paper, we describe our clinical experience with nine consecutive cases of infancy-onset trichotillomania and detail the evaluation process and treatment course in one case. A distinct psychosocial stressor was identified in all cases, often accompanied by loss in the parents' histories. Most of the children had no transitional object. In six infants, the symptom resolved after treatment and did not recur, while in three others improvement was partial. Length of treatment varied from four to twenty-one sessions and outcome was unrelated to treatment duration. In all cases, mother-child interactions were characterized by a lack of maternal physical contact and warmth, sharp maternal transitions between under-involvement and intrusiveness, lack of mutual engagement, and no elaboration of symbolic play. The infant's behavior during play was marked by anxiety, irritability, and momentary withdrawal from the interaction. Our cases reveal an impaired affective interpersonal communication between mother and child, often masked by a fair overallfamily instrumental functioning. It is tenta- tively suggested that infancy-onset trichotillomania represents an end-point symptom of several factors, such as a disturbed parent-infant relationship, a low pain threshold in the infant, and a parental hypersensitivity to overt expressions of aggressive impulses and negative affects. Issues related to treatment modalities are also addressed. Discussion focused on our experience that early-onset cases of trichotillomania are often not benign or homogenous in terms of etiology, course, or response to treatment and require much further study.
... Maternal regulation of the infant's stress reactivity begins in utero and is thought to signal to the developing HPA system the amount of stress the future environment contains (Gitau, Fisk, Teixeira, Cameron, & Glover, 2001). Beginning in infancy, linkage between maternal and infant's cortisol baseline and reactivity have been described, associated with the degree of synchronous parenting that augments or attenuates the infant's cortisol levels Ostfeld-Etzion, Golan, Hirschler-Guttenberg, Zagoory-Sharon, & Feldman, 2015;Saxbe et al., 2017;Thompson & Trevathan, 2008). Cortisol linkage in childhood and adolescence has been similarly associated with sensitive parenting Pratt et al., 2017), and maternal cortisol is among the strongest predictors of child cortisol production (Bright, Granger, & Frick, 2012). ...
... Synchronous parenting prepares children to function competently within the social world, acquire a social repertoire, master appropriate social skills, and develop a socially engaged rather than withdrawn style (Feldman, 2010;Feldman & Masalha, 2010;Marshal & Fox, 2006), and thus, social engagement may function as an indirect mediator of war exposure on child psychopathology. Because alterations in children's HPA-axis functioning have been associated with variability in social engagement (Apter-Levi et al., 2016;Saxbe et al., 2017), it is also possible that social engagement may mediate the link between child cortisol and symptom formation. Finally, extant research has indicated that maternal psychopathology, particularly the presence of maternal psychiatric disorders, is related to increased child externalizing and internalizing symptoms (Goodman et al., 2011;Leen-Feldner et al., 2013). ...
Article
While chronic early stress increases child susceptibility to psychopathology, risk and resilience trajectories are shaped by maternal social influences whose role requires much further research in longitudinal studies. We examined the social transmission of risk by assessing paths leading from war-exposure to child symptoms as mediated by 3 sources of maternal social influence; stress physiology, synchronous parenting, and psychiatric disorder. Mothers and children living in a zone of continuous war were assessed in early childhood (1.5–5 years) and the current study revisited families in late (9–11years) childhood (N = 177; N = 101 war-exposed; N = 76 controls). At both time-points, maternal and child’s salivary cortisol (SC), social behavior, and externalizing and internalizing symptoms were assessed. In late childhood, hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) were also measured and mother and child underwent psychiatric diagnosis. The social transmission model was tested against 2 alternative models; 1 proposing direct impact of war on children without maternal mediation, the other predicting late-childhood symptoms from early childhood variables, not change trajectories. Path analysis controlling for early childhood variables supported our conceptual model. Whereas maternal psychopathology was directly linked with child symptoms, defining direct mediation, the impact of maternal stress hormones was indirect and passed through stress contagion mechanisms involving coupling between maternal and child’s HCC and SC. Similarly, maternal synchrony linked with child social engagement as the pathway to reduced symptomatology. Findings underscore the critical role of maternal stress physiology, attuned behavior, and well-being in shaping child psychopathology amid adversity and specify direct and indirect paths by which mothers stand between war and the child.
... Conversely, another study with preschoolers and their mothers found an inverse relation between observed dyadic reciprocity during play and diurnal cortisol synchrony (Pratt et al., 2017). Similarly, Saxbe et al. (2017) demonstrated that for fatherpreschooler dyads (about half of the children were diagnosed with ASDs), cortisol synchrony was higher for dyads in which observed reciprocity, father's sensitivity, and child self-regulation were lower. ...
... These findings were weaker in families with a stepparent and youth gender moderated the results, such that an adolescent's cortisol was more closely linked with the cortisol levels of his/her same sex parent. Another study by Saxbe et al. (2017) found that based on multilevel modeling results, father-child, but not mother-child, dyads exhibited cortisol synchrony throughout a home visit, highlighting the importance of including such comparisons in physiological synchrony research. ...
Article
This manuscript provides a critical review of the literature on parent–child physiological synchrony—the matching of biological states between parents and children. All eligible studies found some evidence of physiological synchrony, though the magnitude and direction of synchrony varied according to methodological factors, including the physiological system examined (i.e., parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system activity, adrenocortical functioning) and the statistical approach used (e.g., multilevel modeling, correlation). The review underscores the need to consider the context in which physiological synchrony occurs (e.g., family risk) to best understand its significance. Furthermore, the review delineates vital avenues for future research, including the need to assess synchrony across multiple physiological systems and the importance of documenting continuity/change in physiological synchrony across developmental periods. Such research is crucial for understanding how the parent–child relationship unfolds at a physiological level and, in turn, how this relationship can facilitate or hinder parent, child, and family adjustment.
... As positive parenting and the expression of the speciestypical maternal behavior shape maturation of children's stress response and predict psychopathology (Kuhlman, Olson, & Lopez-Duran, 2014;Silk et al., 2007), the reduction in positive parenting can impact child symptom formation as mediated by HPA-axis dysfunction. Furthermore, through mechanisms of "adrenocortical synchrony" (Feldman, 2016;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017) or "CT linkage" (Saxbe et al., 2017), the concordance between maternal and child's CT levels, the depressed mother's HPA-axis dysfunctions are transferred to the child. CT linkage is found across development, in infancy (Tarullo, Moore, John, & Meyer, 2017), childhood , and adolescence (Papp, Pendry, & Adam, 2009) and is related to sensitive parenting that mediates the child's CT response (Feldman, Gordon, Influs, Gutbir, & Ebstein, 2013;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017;Saxbe et al., 2017;Thompson & Trevathan, 2008). ...
... Furthermore, through mechanisms of "adrenocortical synchrony" (Feldman, 2016;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017) or "CT linkage" (Saxbe et al., 2017), the concordance between maternal and child's CT levels, the depressed mother's HPA-axis dysfunctions are transferred to the child. CT linkage is found across development, in infancy (Tarullo, Moore, John, & Meyer, 2017), childhood , and adolescence (Papp, Pendry, & Adam, 2009) and is related to sensitive parenting that mediates the child's CT response (Feldman, Gordon, Influs, Gutbir, & Ebstein, 2013;Pratt, Apter-Levi, et al., 2017;Saxbe et al., 2017;Thompson & Trevathan, 2008). This suggests that maternal CT levels should be considered when testing the mediating role of child CT on risk and resilience. ...
Article
1 Background Exposure to maternal depression bears long‐term negative consequences for children's well‐being. Yet, no study has tested the joint contribution of maternal and child's hypothalamic pituitary axis and immune systems in mediating the effects of maternal depression on child psychopathology. 2 Methods We followed a birth cohort over‐represented for maternal depression from birth to 10 years (N = 125). At 10 years, mother and child's cortisol (CT) and secretory immunoglobulin A (s‐IgA), biomarkers of the stress and immune systems, were assayed, mother–child interaction observed, mothers and children underwent psychiatric diagnosis, and children's externalizing and internalizing symptoms reported. 3 Results Depressed mothers had higher CT and s‐IgA levels and displayed more negative parenting, characterized by negative affect, intrusion, and criticism. Children of depressed mothers exhibited more Axis‐I disorders, higher s‐IgA levels, and greater social withdrawal. Structural equation modeling charted four paths by which maternal depression impacted child externalizing and internalizing symptoms: (a) increasing maternal CT, which linked with higher child CT and behavior problems; (b) augmenting maternal and child's immune response, which were associated with child symptoms; (c) enhancing negative parenting that predicted child social withdrawal and symptoms; and (d), via a combined endocrine‐immune pathway suppressing symptom formation. 4 Conclusions Our findings, the first to test stress and immune biomarkers in depressed mothers and their children in relation to social behavior, describe mechanisms of endocrine synchrony in shaping children's stress response and immunity, advocate the need to follow the long‐term effects of maternal depression on children's health throughout life, and highlight maternal depression as an important public health concern.
... Physiological synchrony has been documented across biological systems, with each system offering unique information about how caregiver-child relationships are represented at the biological level (e.g., Gordis, Margolin, Spies, Susman, & Granger, 2010;Saxbe et al., 2017;Woltering, Lishak, Elliott, Ferraro, & Granic, 2015). This investigation focuses on synchrony in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an indicator of parasympathetic activity. ...
... It will be important to examine mother-preadolescent RSA synchrony longitudinally to identify the contributions of parent-child physiological synchrony to developmental outcomes. Analysis with a father-child sample is warranted, as existing research suggests that parent-child synchrony using other stress response physiological indicators (e.g., cortisol, salivary alpha amylase; Gordis et al., 2010;Saxbe et al., 2017) is different when fathers versus mothers are involved in the interaction. Additional research also needs to consider how physiological synchrony may vary based on child or parent gender as work in this area has either included just one gender or examined gender differences on major study variables without running physiological synchrony analyses separately for girls and boys (Amole et al., 2017;. ...
Article
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This cross-sectional study examined behavioral and physiological indicators of the parent-child relationship as moderators of the link between maternal depressive and child psychopathology symptoms. Ninety-seven mothers (M age = 35.38 years) and their 9- to 12-year-old children (M age = 10.32 years, 53.7% girls, 78.1% African American) from economically impoverished backgrounds participated. Mothers reported on their own depressive symptoms using the Beck Depression Inventory-2 (BDI-2) and their child's emotional and behavioral problems using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Physiological activity (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia) of both mother and child was collected during a dyadic conflict discussion task, and interactions were coded independently for mother and child positivity, negativity, and engagement. Physiological synchrony was computed using multilevel modeling, and dyad-level behavioral indicators (i.e., dyadic positivity, negativity, and engagement) were created by averaging individual mother and child behavioral codes. Moderation analyses indicated that the link between mother and child symptoms was exacerbated for dyads who displayed low levels of positivity and low levels of engagement, as well as in the context of positive physiological synchrony. In contrast, high levels of positivity and engagement and negative physiological synchrony buffered the link between symptoms. Findings have implications for conceptual models of intergenerational risk for psychopathology and for clinical prevention and intervention efforts that target the parent-child relationship. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
... All other vocalizations were considered neutral. This type of vocalization affective code is extensively used in the microcoding scheme applied in the current study and is in line with prior work on microcoding interactive behavior (for recent examples see Gordon et al., 2017;Levy, Goldstein, & Feldman, 2017;Saxbe et al., 2017). Since we did not have a specific hypothesis regarding the affective aspects of vocalizations, we later collapsed all these to a single component named "Total Vocalizations" which was the sum of RpM of positive, neutral and negative vocalizations. ...
Article
Background: Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is an evidence-based treatment for individuals with ASD that targets social communication skills, most notably social motivation. The aim of the current study was to map microanalytic changes in social communication during dyadic child-therapist interactions following a 16-week trial of PRT. We proposed that a microanalytic approach would allow us to meticulously outline the dynamics of the "building blocks" of children's discourse, stressing certain aspect that might go unnoticed in global methods of coding. We hypothesized that PRT would improve measures of linguistic social communication in children. Method: We utilized continuous microanalysis of behavior to explore changes in social communication during PRT sessions in 20 high-functioning children with ASD (ages 4-7 years). For each child, two videotaped PRT sessions-at the beginning and end of these 16 weeks-were coded for vocalizations and verbalizations. This allowed us to compare the amount, fluency, adequacy and reciprocity of social communication between child and therapist at the early versus final stages of PRT. Results: Compared to baseline, at endpoint, children increased their overall use of vocalizations as well as the congruency of their responses to those of the therapist. The amount of non-congruent responses also dropped significantly. Additionally, children improved in measures of conversational fluency and use of self-referential pronouns. Conclusions: These results provide a mapping of microanalytic changes in social and linguistic communication that occur during PRT and point to children's improvement in social communication behavior leading to greater social reciprocity and conversational synchrony following treatment.
... Although some studies have suggested that L-HPA axis linkage is stronger when parent-child dyads show more sensitivity, proximity, and closeness (Atkinson et al., 2013;Sethre-Hofstad, Stansbury, & Rice, 2002;van Bakel & Riksen-Walraven, 2008), other studies have found heightened L-HPA axis linkage within high-stress contexts such as domestic violence (Hibel et al., 2009) and maternal depression (Laurent, Ablow, & Measelle, 2011). Similarly, several studies have reported stronger parent-child L-HPA linkage when parents show lower levels of sensitivity and reciprocity with their children (Pratt et al., 2017;Saxbe et al., 2017) and when dyads report higher levels of negative affect (Papp et al., 2009). Several studies using experimental designs have added to this literature. ...
Chapter
Emotion regulation and dysregulation often unfold within interpersonal contexts. Parent–child relationships provide early scaffolding of emotion regulation processes. Parents attune to, and influence, their children’s emotions, through pathways such as physical touch, infant cry, facial expressions, and stress physiology. Interpersonal emotion regulation and dysregulation processes continue to evolve within other close relationship contexts such as romantic couple relationships in adulthood. Partners shape each other’s emotion regulation through stress contagion and physiological interconnection, and through interactions that can be conflictual or supportive. This chapter reviews the theoretical foundations and the existing literature describing how emotion regulation and dysregulation take place within interpersonal relationships. Researchers have highlighted the reciprocal nature of emotion expression, perception, and modulation within interpersonal groups. In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Darwin postulated that emotional facial expressions play a role in evolutionary survival and group dynamics. Later researchers furthered Darwin’s account by attempting to parse out the intra- and interindividual functionality of emotional expressions (Ekman, 1992, 1993; Shariff & Tracy, 2011), theorizing that intraindividual emotion expression likely served to help regulate the individual’s own physiological state (Susskind et al., 2008), and over time, emotion expression became linked with social communication. Additionally, Bowlby’s (1969) and Harlow’s (1959) seminal research on the role of emotion in dyadic processes during infant development culminated in attachment theory and an emphasis on parent–child relationships as foundational for adult expression, perception, and regulation of emotions. James Gross and colleagues have studied individual differences in emotion regulation and well-being (e.g., Gross & John, 2003; Ochsner & Gross, 2005), emphasizing the role of emotion regulation in adaptive functioning. Developmental researchers emphasize that infant and child emotion regulation is almost exclusively an interpersonal process, and more recent reviews theorize that adolescent and adult emotion regulation abilities remain interpersonal, rather than transitioning to an intraindividual process (Rimé, 2009). Indeed, for over a century psychologists, biologists, evolutionary scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists have studied the phenomena of interpersonal emotional expression, perception, and regulation. This chapter will focus on various types of interpersonal processes that contribute to emotion dysregulation, while acknowledging that dysregulation is only one side of the coin. Thus, we will examine interpersonal processes leading to effective emotion regulation to provide a context for emotion dysregulation as a deviation from adaptive processes. We focus primarily on close dyadic relationships, since the preponderance of research on interpersonal emotional regulation and dysregulation has focused on dyads. We begin by describing interpersonal emotion transmission processes within parent–child dyads, including modalities such as touch, cry, facial expressions, and physiology. We then move to the literature on adult couples and describe research on couple conflict and couple support. Finally, we conclude with recommendations for further research.
... It will be important to examine mother-preadolescent RSA synchrony longitudinally to identify the contributions of parent-child physiological synchrony to developmental outcomes. Analysis with a father-child sample is warranted, as existing research suggests that parent-child synchrony using other stress response physiological indicators (e.g., cortisol, salivary alpha amylase; Gordis et al., 2010;Saxbe et al., 2017) is different when fathers versus mothers are involved in the interaction. Additional research also needs to consider how physiological synchrony may vary based on child or parent gender as work in this area has either included just one gender or examined gender differences on major study variables without running physiological synchrony analyses separately for girls and boys (Amole et al., 2017;Lunkenheimer, Tiberio, et al., 2018). ...
Article
Full-text available
Physiological synchrony, or concordance, among caregiver–child dyads involves the matching of biological states. Understanding this process is critical for enhancing our knowledge of the ways that the caregiver–child relationship supports child development. However, the meaning of physiological synchrony for child adjustment is poorly understood. This study examined physiological synchrony in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an indicator of parasympathetic activity, between 87 mothers (M age = 35.30 years, SD = 6.71 years) and their preadolescent children (M age = 10.36 years, SD = 1. 19 years, 52.9% girls). Dyads, all of which were from economically impoverished backgrounds, participated in 3 tasks that varied in the level of interaction that was required between the partners. Mothers self-reported their own depressive symptoms and rated their children’s externalizing and internalizing symptoms. Physiological synchrony was generally strongest in tasks requiring the greatest levels of interaction among partners. Further, RSA synchrony was positive in the context of low levels of maternal depressive and child internalizing symptoms, and negative in the context of high levels of such symptoms, though results varied by task. Child externalizing symptoms did not moderate the RSA concordance process. The results identify both proximal and distal contexts in which physiological synchrony occurs, which ultimately broadens our understanding of the meaning and significance of parent–child physiological synchrony.
... Researchers have used several methodological tools to study the links between attachment-related constructs and behavioral (Leclere et al., 2014), autonomic (Ebisch et al., 2012), and hormonal (Papp et al., 2009;Saxbe et al., 2017) facets of parent-child synchrony across different temporal scales. Overall, however, studies of parent-child synchrony at the level of the brain have been rare, perhaps due in part to the physical and temporal constraints of popular neuroimaging technologies such as fMRI. ...
Article
Coordinated brain activity between individuals, or inter-brain synchrony, has been shown to increase during cooperation and correlate with cooperation success. However, few studies have examined parent-child inter-brain synchrony and whether it is associated with meaningful aspects of the parent-child relationship. Here, we measured inter-brain synchrony in the right prefrontal (PFC) and temporal cortices in mother-child dyads while they engaged in a cooperative and independent task. We tested whether inter-brain synchrony in mother-child dyads (1) increases during cooperation, (2) differs in mother-son versus mother-daughter dyads, and (3) is related to cooperation performance and the attachment relationship. Overall inter-brain synchrony in the right hemisphere, and the right dorsolateral and frontopolar PFC in particular, was higher during cooperation. Mother-son dyads showed less inter-brain synchrony during the independent task and a stronger increase in synchrony in response to cooperation than mother-daughter dyads. Lastly, we did not find strong evidence for links between inter-brain synchrony and child attachment. Mother-child cooperation may increase overall inter-brain synchrony, although differently for mother-son versus mother-daughter dyads. More research is needed to better understand the potential role of overall inter-brain synchrony in mother-child cooperation, and the potential link between inter-brain synchrony and attachment.
... Similarly, when cortisol is assessed from diurnal or baseline samples (see Davis, West, Bilms, Morelen, & Suveg, 2018, for a review;Ouellette et al., 2015), most studies of parent-child dyads report a link between higher mother-child cortisol synchrony and poorer parent-child relationship and parenting quality. In dyads with preschoolers, greater cortisol synchrony is present when mothers have a history of depression (Merwin, Smith, Kushner, Lemay, & Dougherty, 2017), show more negative affect (Papp et al., 2009), or have lower parenting sensitivity (Saxbe et al., 2017), as well as in dyads with children who have more negative emotionality (Merwin et al., 2017). ...
... According to the biobehavioral model of parent-child synchrony [35], dyadic synchrony represents a dynamic regulatory process by which hormonal, physiological, and behavioral cues are exchanged between parent and child during social contact in order to jointly pull each other toward a baseline level characterized by greater stability in the system. In a synchronous relationship, when a child becomes distressed, the caregiver will be able to regulate his/her own feelings of discomfort and adopt a soothing demeanor, helping the child to regain emotional balance [36]. The parental ability to mentalize has been linked to observational measures of dyadic interactional quality such as higher sensitivity and lower hostility [37], and these links have also been found in the context of parental ELM and psychopathology [38,39]. ...
Article
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Background Parents’ mental illness (MI) and parental history of early life maltreatment (ELM) are known to be significant risk factors for poor parenting while poor parenting is a crucial mediator of the intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment. Hence, maltreatment prevention programs for families with an MI parent, which pay particular attention to experiences of ELM in the parent, are urgently needed. Parental mentalizing was previously found to mediate successful parenting. Interventions aimed at improving the parental mentalizing capacity reduced maltreatment risk in parents. The aim of the present study is to investigate the effectiveness of a mentalization-based parenting-counseling in acutely mentally ill parents currently treated at a psychiatric hospital. Methods Mentalization-based parenting-counseling (MB-PC) vs. enhanced standard clinical care (SCC+) will be administered in a cluster-randomized-controlled trial (RCT). Patients treated at psychiatric hospitals with children between 1.5 and 15 years will be included in the trial. MB-PC will be administered as a 12-h combined individual and group program enriched by social counseling (over a course of 5 weeks) as add-on to standard clinical care, while the control condition will be standard clinical care plus a 90-min psychoeducation workshop on positive parenting. Primary efficacy endpoint is self-reported parenting practices at follow-up. Embedded within the RCT will be two sub-studies investigating social cognition and dyadic synchrony as biobehavioral mechanisms of change. Discussion The main goal of the present study is to investigate ways to break the intergenerational continuity of maltreatment by assessing the benefits of a prevention program which aims at improving parenting in vulnerable mothers and fathers. MB-PC is a short, low-cost intervention which can be delivered by nurses and social workers and is applicable to MI patients with children with a broad range of diagnoses. If it is shown to be effective, it can be directly implemented into standard psychiatric hospital care thereby providing help to prevent child maltreatment. Trial registration German Clinical Trials Register DRKS00017398 . Registered on 5 July 2019
... In addition, there is evidence for a dissociation between behavioral coordination and aspects of physiological alignment. In particular, correlations of cortisol levels were higher in parent-child dyads with less behavioral coordination (Saxbe et al., 2017). In line with the notion that too much physiological synchrony in caregiver-child interaction might be detrimental, Wass et al. (2019) report greater co-fluctuation of arousal throughout the day in caregiver-infant dyads with an anxious caregiver. ...
Article
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Many group-living animals, humans included, occasionally synchronize their behavior with that of conspecifics. Social psychology and neuroscience has attempted to explain this phenomenon. Here we sought to integrate results around three themes: the stimuli, the mechanisms, and the benefits of interactional synchrony. As regards stimuli, we asked what characteristics, apart from temporal regularity, prompt synchronization and found that stimulus modality and complexity are important. The high temporal resolution of the auditory system and the relevance of socio-emotional information endow auditory, multi-modal, emotional and somewhat variable and adaptive sequences with particular synchronizing power. Looking at the mechanisms revealed that traditional perspectives emphasizing beat-based representations of others' signals conflict with more recent work investigating the perception of temporal regularity. Timing processes supported by striato-cortical loops represent any kind of repetitive interval sequence fairly automatically. Additionally, socio-emotional processes supported by posterior superior temporal cortex help endow such sequences with value motivating the extent of synchronizing. Synchronizing benefits arise from an increased predictability of incoming signals and include many positive outcomes ranging from basic information processing at the individual level to the bonding of dyads and larger groups.
... In literature on families of children with developmental disabilities, physiological synchrony studies have focused on parent-child dyads (viz., Davis et al., 2017). Of note, Saxbe et al. (2017) examined whether synchrony in cortisol levels between parent-child dyads varied as a function of child ASD diagnosis. Multilevel modeling results indicated direct parent-child cortisol linkage among father-child but not mother-child pairs, with a trend for a weaker linkage in the context of child ASD. ...
Article
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Introduction: Despite robust evidence in the broader family process literature for within-couple associations between romantic partners' physiological responding, this linkage has not been tested directly among parents raising a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Explicit attention to these parents is warranted on the basis of the established family-wide challenges associated with the persistent emotional, functional, and behavior impairments typically observed in children with ASD (see Karst & Van Hecke, 2012). The first purpose of this study is to extend examination of within-couple associations between electrodermal activity (EDA) to mothers and fathers of children with ASD. The second purpose is to test 2 potential moderators of EDA synchrony reflecting heightened challenges among parents of children with ASD, namely parenting as an observed conflict topic and global parenting stress. Method: Both parents wore wrist sensors that captured continuous EDA during a recorded marital conflict interaction. Trained coders provided ratings of emotional intensity and conflict topics, including whether the topic of parenting was discussed. Parents reported their global level of parenting stress. Dyadic multilevel modeling was used to test our hypotheses and accounted for interaction factors (e.g., movement data, emotional intensity). Results: Findings identified significant positive associations between parents' EDA. One moderator result emerged; specifically, father EDA was a stronger predictor of mother EDA when parenting was discussed as a conflict topic. Conclusion: This study extends evidence of within-couple physiological linkage to parents raising a child with ASD and provides a foundation for future research examining the family-wide implications of this linkage. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
... Research suggests that family interaction patterns are pathways through which cortisol production and other stress-related pathways can be both attenuated and activated, depending on the context and qualities of the interactions (Decaro & Worthman, 2008;Flinn & England, 1995;Flinn & Leone, 2006;Flinn et al., 2011;Granger, Weisz, Mccracken, Ikeda, & Donglas, 1996;Gunnar & Quevedo, 2006;Saxbe et al., 2017Saxbe et al., , 2014Worthman & Panter-Brick, 2008). For example, research on triadic discussions about contentious topics among family members found positive associations between mothers', fathers', and their children's cortisol levels (Saxbe et al., 2014). ...
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Objectives The effects of socially evaluated tasks on stress‐related behavior and physiology are often studied under artificial experimental conditions, such as contrived public speaking. Less is known about these behavioral and physiological dimensions under more routine conditions, such as family interactions. Here, we tested whether language anxiety during bilingual family conversations correlated to cortisol reactivity and speech patterns and whether family members' ages moderated this effect. Methods Individuals (N = 34) from Spanish‐English bilingual families participated in prompted conversations in both languages with their family members and provided saliva that we assayed for cortisol. Participants responded to a survey about language anxiety, and we analyzed their conversations for code switching. We tested whether higher reported anxiety was correlated with increased cortisol reactivity and if participants' age moderated this effect. Results Participants' reported language anxiety was not significantly correlated with cortisol reactivity after conversations in either language. However, age significantly moderated the effect of English language anxiety. Among younger individuals, higher English language anxiety was correlated with greater cortisol reactivity after the English conversations. Older individuals did not demonstrate this same pattern. Individuals who code‐switched during the English conversations had higher English language anxiety than individuals who did not. Similar patterns were not observed for the Spanish conversations. Conclusions The physiological and verbal responses to English language anxiety may be reflective of the high pressure placed on English use among bilingual families in the U.S., and the greater cortisol reactivity of younger individuals suggests they may face more identity challenging acculturation pressure.
... Synchrony in stress physiology of group members is an indicator of social allostatic load. For example, daily cortisol synchronization in couples is associated with relationship distress [39], and parentechild cortisol covariation is associated with less attunement and reciprocity [40]. Alternatively, behavioral synchrony is often associated with positive outcomes. ...
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Social Baseline Theory (SBT) maintains that the primary human ecology is a social ecology. Because of this fact, the theory predicts that humans will find it easier and less energetically taxing to regulate emotion and act when in proximity to familiar and predictable others. This paper reviews new empirical and theoretical work related to SBT and highlights areas of needed research. Among these exciting developments are investigations of the neural mechanisms of social emotion regulation, the creation of a model of social allostasis, and work investigating at the impact of social proximity in real world contexts. SBT continues to accrue support and inspire new theoretical and empirical contributions.
... Highlighting the need to move beyond the study of neurobiological processes within a single individual and to instead examine the complex temporal interplay between social partners (Bell, 2020), affiliation and attachment between caregivers and children involves physiological synchrony, or matching of biological states, that is theorized to develop in part through receptive and productive social communication (Davis, West, Bilms, Morelen, & Suveg, 2018). There is particularly robust evidence for concordance of maternal and child cortisol production across development (Hibel, Granger, Blair, & Finegood, 2015;LeMoult, Chen, Foland-Ross, Burley, & Gotlib, 2015;Pratt et al., 2017;Saxbe et al., 2017). ...
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The relationships infants and young children have with their caregivers are fundamental to their survival and well-being. Theorists and researchers across disciplines have attempted to describe and assess the variation in these relationships, leading to a general acceptance that caregiving is critical to understanding child functioning, including developmental psychopathology. At the same time, we lack consensus on how to assess these fundamental relationships. In the present paper, we first review research documenting the importance of the caregiver–child relationship in understanding environmental risk for psychopathology. Second, we propose that the National Institute of Mental Health's Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative provides a useful framework for extending the study of children's risk for psychopathology by assessing their caregivers’ social processes . Third, we describe the units of analysis for caregiver social processes, documenting how the specific subconstructs in the domain of social processes are relevant to the goal of enhancing knowledge of developmental psychopathology. Lastly, we highlight how past research can inform new directions in the study of caregiving and the parent–child relationship through this innovative extension of the RDoC initiative.
... Yet preliminary evidence shows that father-child dyads demonstrate secondby-second synchrony in positive affect, that father-child affective synchrony positively predicts child outcomes, and that father-child and mother-child affective synchrony patterns may be distinct (Feldman, 2003;Lunkenheimer et al., 2020). However, few studies have investigated father-child physiological synchrony, and the majority that do tend to address endocrinological processes during infancy or adolescence (e.g., Saxbe et al., 2017). As for cardiovascular processes, a recent study showed that children's externalizing symptoms were related to both mother-and father-preschooler RSA synchrony, and also that father-child RSA patterns were particularly associated with positive affect expressed during the interaction . ...
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We examined whether dynamic parent–child RSA synchrony varied by individual differences in child average RSA and parental history of childhood maltreatment (CM), which has been linked to parental behavioral and physiological dysregulation. We also examined whether RSA synchrony was curvilinear, reflecting homeostatic regulation. Synchrony was defined as the dynamic association between parent and child RSA reactivity (change relative to their own mean) within epoch across a challenging task. Eighty‐three mother–preschooler and 61 father–preschooler dyads participated. State‐trait modeling showed that RSA synchrony was curvilinear such that significant relations were only found at lower and higher child reactivity. Children's higher task average RSA predicted maternal RSA augmentation and lower task average RSA predicted maternal RSA withdrawal, regardless of whether child reactivity in the moment was low or high, suggesting individual differences in child regulatory capacity were associated with dynamic maternal reactivity. When maternal CM history and child average RSA were both higher, mothers showed RSA augmentation. Father–child synchrony was not moderated by child average RSA but greater paternal CM history predicted fathers’ greater RSA withdrawal regardless of whether child RSA reactivity was low or high. Findings offer novel insights into the nature and meaning of RSA synchrony with parents at risk.
... Across these studies, there is evidence of reduced physiological synchrony between children with ASD and their caregivers. Preschoolers with ASD display reduced cortisol synchrony, defined as alignment of saliva cortisol levels measured at three time points during a 2-h home interaction, with their mothers compared with typically developing children [37]. Among children with ASD, the level of synchrony displayed may be dependent on symptom severity, as children with higher levels of ASD symptoms have reduced electrodermal synchrony with their caregivers compared to children with lower levels of symptoms [35]. ...
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Purpose of review: We review evidence for the presence, quality, and correlates of interpersonal synchrony in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) across four domains: motor, conversational, physiological, and neural. We also propose cognitive and neural mechanisms for the disruption of interpersonal synchrony and investigate synchrony as a mechanism of intervention in ASD. Recent findings: Across domains, synchrony is present but reduced or atypical in individuals with ASD during interactions with individuals with typical development (TD). Atypical synchrony may reflect the contribution of both intrapersonal mechanisms, such as atypical motor timing, and interpersonal mechanisms, such as atypical interindividual coupling. Research suggests evidence for synchrony interventions leading to improvements in some aspects of social behavior. Understanding synchrony in ASD has the potential to lead to biomarkers and interventions to support social functioning. However, further research should clarify mechanisms of atypical synchrony in ASD including taking features of the dyad into account.
Chapter
The development of biomarkers of psychiatric disease has been among the highest priorities in mental health research over the past century. The ideal biomarkers in this context would serve one of several purposes, such as (1) distinguish individuals with and without psychiatric disease, (2) provide evidence that treatments mitigate not only the behavioral symptoms of disorders but also the biological underpinnings, and (3) elucidate future risk for development of a disorder. To date, salivary markers have been used in each of these contexts. In this chapter, we summarize the history of the use of salivary biomarkers in research aimed at identifying, characterizing, and treating psychiatric disorders, such as mood and anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Finally, this chapter reviews the strengths and limitations of the knowledge gained to date and introduces how salivary bioscience can contribute to the next generation of research on the course, causes, and treatment for psychiatric disorders.
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Theories such as social baseline theory have argued that social groups serve a regulatory function but have not explored whether this regulatory process carries costs for the group. Allostatic load, the wear and tear on regulatory systems caused by chronic or frequent stress, is marked by diminished stress system flexibility and compromised recovery. We argue that allostatic load may develop within social groups as well and provide a model for how relationship dysfunction operates. Social allostatic load may be characterized by processes such as groups becoming locked into static patterns of interaction and may ultimately lead to up-regulation or down-regulation of a group's set point, or the optimal range of arousal or affect around which the group tends to converge. Many studies of emotional and physiological linkage within groups have reported that highly correlated states of arousal, which may reflect failure to maintain a group-level regulatory baseline, occur in the context of stress, conflict, and relationship distress. Relationship strain may also place greater demands on neurocognitive regulatory processes. Just as allostatic load may be detrimental to individual health, social allostatic load may corrode relationship quality.
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Encounter with outgroup has been shown to elicit physiological stress response and when outgroup is perceived as threatening to one's own family and community, stress is higher. In such contexts, becoming familiar and learning to empathize with the other side may reduce stress. Building on the long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we developed an eight-week group intervention focused on dialogue and empathy and tested it within a randomized controlled trial. Eighty-eight Israeli-Jewish and Arab-Palestinian adolescents (16-18 years) were randomly assigned to intervention or control groups. Before(T1) and after(T2) intervention, one-on-one interaction with outgroup member was videotaped, cortisol levels assessed five times during a 2.5-hour session involving exposure to outgroup stimuli, and adolescents were interviewed regarding national conflict. Intervention reduced cortisol response to social contact and reminders of outgroup (F = 4.92, p = .032, Eta² = 0.109). This HPA-activity suppression was defined by two pathways. First, intervention had a direct impact on cortisol decrease; and second, intervention increased youth's behavioral empathy during one-on-one interaction with outgroup member and this empathic response mediated the effect of intervention on cortisol reduction. Adolescents' belief in the potential for reconciliation at T1 predicted greater empathy at T2. Our study provides the first evidence-based intervention for youth growing up amidst intractable conflict and demonstrates its impact on adolescents' physiological stress response to outgroup. Results contribute to research on the neurobiology of ingroup/outgroup relations, highlight the key role of dialogical empathy and social interactions for interventions targeting youth, and emphasize the importance of enhancing motivation for social inclusion for initiating positive behavioral and physiological processes. Clinical Trials Registry (NCT02122887; https://clinicaltrials.gov).
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Parent–child physiological synchrony, the matching of physiological states between parents and children, is theorized to be important for typically developing (TD) children, but less is known about this process in families of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In a sample of 29 children (M age = 8.00 years, SD = 1.51 years) with ASD and 39 TD‐matched children (M age = 7.32 years, SD = 1.36 years) and their primary caregivers (n = 68), we examined whether parent–child dyads showed physiological synchrony indexed by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) during an interaction, and whether RSA synchrony differed by parent–child interaction quality and child behavior problems. Results indicated that dyads with TD children showed stronger positive RSA synchrony than dyads with children with ASD. Furthermore, for families of children with ASD, RSA synchrony was stronger in families with higher interaction quality and fewer child internalizing problems. These results provide preliminary evidence of parent–child RSA synchrony in families of children with ASD and identify factors that may influence this physiological process. Implications of these findings for social and emotional development in children with ASD are discussed. Lay Summary Parents and children can get “in tune” with one another at the biological level – a process called physiological synchrony. We studied physiological synchrony in families of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in comparison to same‐aged children who had no mental health disorders. We also examined how physiological synchrony might be associated with parent–child interaction quality and child behavior problems. We found that families with a child with ASD showed weaker physiological synchrony than families with a child who was typically developing. Further, we found that physiological synchrony was stronger when parents and children with ASD showed higher interaction quality and when children with ASD had lower internalizing problems. These findings contribute to our understanding of family functioning in the context of ASD and have potential implications for future work.
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Extensive research has established a positive association between caregiver-child behavioral synchrony and child developmental functioning. Burgeoning research examining physiological synchrony has yet to elucidate its impact for children’s developing self-regulation. The objectives of this systematic review were to: 1) determine whether there is evidence that caregiver-child physiological synchrony promotes positive child development, 2) examine developmental differences in physiological synchrony and its correlates, and 3) explore whether context, risk, and/or stress influence patterns of synchrony. Sixty-nine studies met the following criteria on PubMed and PsycINFO: 1) peer-reviewed empirical articles in English that 2) examine autonomic, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical, and/or central nervous system activity 3) for caregivers and children 4) in response to a task and 5) directly examine the association between caregiver and child physiology. Findings varied based on developmental period and current behavioral context. Functional differences may exist across physiological systems and contexts. Synchrony may have different developmental consequences for dyads with and without certain risk factors. Few studies examine physiological synchrony across multiple systems or contexts, nor do they measure child characteristics associated with synchrony. Statistical and methodological challenges impede interpretation. Findings generally support the idea that physiological synchrony may support children’s developing self-regulation. Longitudinal research is needed to examine child developmental outcomes over time.
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Father‐infant and mother‐infant (one‐year‐olds) adrenocortical attunement was explored during the Strange Situation Procedure (SSP) among 125 father‐infant and 141 mother‐infant dyads. Cortisol was assessed at baseline (T1), 20 (T2), and 40 minutes (T3) after the first parent‐infant separation. Initial correlations indicated significant associations between father‐infant and mother‐infant cortisol at each time. Cortisol interdependence was further explored using Actor‐Partner Interdependence Models. There was no evidence supporting cortisol interdependence based on within‐time residual correlations between parent‐infant cortisol, once stability and cross‐lagged paths were controlled. Infant cortisol at T2 predicted T3 cortisol for fathers and mothers resulting in a series of follow‐up exploratory analyses to examine mediating processes which revealed that infant distress during the SSP predicted infant T2 cortisol, which, in turn, predicted infant negativity during the 15‐min mother‐infant teaching task that followed the SSP. Among father‐infant dyads, infant T2 cortisol predicted infant negativity during father‐infant interaction, with infants expressing more negativity having less sensitive fathers. Findings provide little support of parent‐infant adrenocortical attunement across either father‐infant or mother‐infant dyads during the SSP, but preliminary evidence indicates infant distress as a potential mediator. Future research may want to focus on affective and behavioral processes that underlie the concept of parent‐infant adrenocortical attunement.
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Parents of 5- to 12-year-old children (half had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder [ASD] and half were typically developing) provided reports of the most significant marital conflict of the day and ratings of child behaviors problems on a daily basis for 14 days. Mothers and fathers in the ASD group reported having more conflicts in daily life with any children present and more conflicts with the target child present than their counterparts with typically developing children did. Fathers (but not mothers) in the ASD group reported more conflicts as including child-related themes, although parents across the groups did not differ in their reporting marital conflict that specifically discussed the study’s target child. Results from multilevel modeling revealed within-person associations between child presence during marital conflict and parents’ emotions; specifically, child presence was related to lower dyadic positivity and higher dyadic anger, according to both mothers and fathers. In addition, results identified significant, positive within-person associations between child presence during marital conflict and discussing certain conflict topics (increased likelihoods of discussing any children and the study’s target children). These direct associations were found consistently across mothers’ and fathers’ reports, and did not vary across ASD and comparison families. Multilevel models focused on implications of the marital conflict for the study’s target children generally found child presence during conflict and discussion of child-themed conflict topics to predict higher levels of behavior problems in daily life. One moderating effect was identified, with child presence during conflict related to higher behavior problems according to mothers in the ASD group but not those in the comparison group.
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Parent-child synchrony of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) varies by risk, but novel approaches are needed to capture individual contributions to synchrony. Multilevel state-trait modeling was applied to examine how parental psychological distress and parent and child average RSA during challenge (reflecting individual regulatory capacities) shaped RSA synchrony in mother-child (n = 71) and father-child (n = 47) interactions. RSA synchrony was curvilinear such that greater in-the-moment RSA reactivity in one partner prompted greater reactivity in the other. Higher risk (lower average RSA; higher distress) predicted in-the-moment RSA withdrawal to partner RSA changes, whereas lower risk (higher average RSA; lower distress) predicted in-the-moment RSA augmentation. In some models, one’s higher average RSA prompted the partner’s greater reactivity and thus synchrony when parental distress was higher. However, the presence and direction of synchrony was not consistently adaptive nor maladaptive across models, suggesting its meaning relies on theory and the parent and risk factors in question.
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Adrenocortical attunement—similarity in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity—has been well-documented in close relationships (e.g., between romantic partners, parents and children, and close friends). However, little is known about adrenocortical attunement during early relationship formation. In the current study, we examine dyadic adrenocortical attunement during a guided conversation in which two new acquaintances (N = 140 people, 70 dyads), who were university students or adults in the community, answered questions about themselves. Dyads were randomly assigned to answer questions designed to elicit dyad members to reveal a high or low amount of personal information (i.e., to self-disclose at high or low levels). We collected saliva samples (assayed for cortisol) before and after the conversation, and we coded behavioral self-disclosure—the extent to which people revealed their thoughts, feelings, and facts about themselves—during the conversation. As expected, dyads who were assigned to ask and answer high self-disclosure disclosed more than those assigned to ask and answer low self-disclosure questions. In addition, greater self-disclosure during the conversation was associated with greater similarity in cortisol change—that is, dyad members who revealed more about themselves experienced more similar cortisol changes in response to their conversation. This work reveals one social process through which adrenocortical attunement occurs during early relationship formation, and, in doing so, describes how our physiological functioning is linked to those around us—even people we have just met.
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Background: Preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit difficulties in handling social stress and utilizing efficient emotion regulation (ER) strategies to manage high arousal. While researchers called to assess ER in ASD, few studies utilized direct observations. We tested children's behavioral and cortisol response to maternal and paternal unavailability and hypothesized that children with ASD will employ less complex ER strategies and their parents would show increased regulation facilitation effort to accommodate their child's difficulties. Methods: Forty preschoolers with ASD were matched with 40 typically developing (TD) preschoolers. Children were seen twice for identical battery with mother or father in the face-to-face-still-face paradigm, a three-episode paradigm where parent-child play (free play (FP)) is interrupted by elimination of communication (still face (SF)) followed by resuming play (reunion (RE)). Micro-coding of parent and child's social behavior and ER strategies was conducted. Parent and child's cortisol was assessed at baseline, following stress, and at recovery. Results: Children with ASD exhibited the typical SF effect, indexed by an increase in negative affect and decrease in positive communications, but employed more simple regulatory behavior (self-soothing, proximity-seeking) and less complex strategies involving attention redirection and substitutive play. Their parents used more regulation-facilitation behavior, both simple and complex. All children showed initial cortisol response to novelty, which declined over time. However, maternal presence suppressed initial cortisol response in children with ASD. Conclusions: Children with ASD form typical expectations of parental availability and their parents increase effort to help repair social rupture. Among children with ASD, maternal presence and regulation facilitation provide social buffering for the child's HPA stress response in a manner similar to mammalian neonates. Results highlight the importance of assessing ER by combining direct observations and physiological measures and including fathers in empirical studies and intervention efforts for children with ASD during sensitive periods for social growth.
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Cortisol is a biomarker of stress reactivity, and its diurnal pattern is an indicator of general neuroendocrine health. Despite theories conceptualizing marital dyads as dynamic systems wherein spouses are interdependent in their physiology and stress coping, little is known about the daily processes in which spouses possibly influence each other in biological stress. Nineteen heterosexual couples provided saliva samples containing cortisol 4 times a day for 4 consecutive days. We used multilevel modeling to examine whether one's cortisol awaking response (CAR) and diurnal cortisol slope (DCS) predict those of the spouse's on the same day and/or on the next day. We found that spouses synchronize their DCS, such that on days when one experiences faster or slower decline in diurnal cortisol than usual, the spouse also experiences faster or slower decline than usual. For CAR, positive synchrony was only observed in couples reporting high levels of marital strain and disagreement. Cross-lagged regression analysis reveals stability in diurnal cortisol pattern. A steeper cortisol slope on a particular day predicts a steeper slope on the next day within an individual, but no significant cross-lagged relation was found between spouses. Couples reporting more spousal support tend to have stronger stability in CAR. These findings provide evidence that spouses are interdependent in their diurnal cortisol patterns on a day-to-day basis, and that these daily dynamics are associated with marital relationship quality. The study contributes to our understanding of marital processes and biobehavioral health. It also contributes methodologically to the advancement of longitudinal dyadic analysis. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
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Objective: Within-family concordance in physiology may have implications for family system functioning and for individual health outcomes. Here, we examine patterns of association in cortisol within family triads. Methods: A total of 103 adolescents and their parents sampled saliva at multiple timepoints before and after a conflict discussion task. We explored whether within-family associations existed and were moderated by stepparent presence and youth gender, and whether within-family patterns of influence correlated with individuals' aggregate cortisol. Results: Across the laboratory visit, the cortisol levels of fathers, mothers, and youth were positively associated. In time-lagged models, mothers' cortisol predicted fathers' cortisol levels sampled at the following timepoint, whereas fathers' predicted youths' and youths' predicted mothers' cortisol. These patterns appeared stronger in families not including stepparents. Youth gender moderated some associations: in the aggregate, youth were more strongly linked with their same-gender parent. In time-lagged models, girls were more closely linked to their mothers than boys, and both parents were more linked to girls. Youth showed higher aggregate cortisol output if they were more linked with their mothers, and lower output if more linked with their fathers; parents had higher output if they were more linked with their spouses and lower output if more linked with their children. Conclusions: These results suggest that family members' physiological activation may be linked during shared interaction, and that these patterns may be affected by family role and by youth gender. Our findings identify specific patterns of physiological influence within families that may inform family systems theories.
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Children with Autism often show difficulties in adapting to change. Previous studies of cortisol, a neurobiologic stress hormone reflecting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity, in children with autism have demonstrated variable results. This study measured cortisol levels in children with and without Autism: (1) at rest; (2) in a novel environment; and (3) in response to a blood draw stressor. A significantly higher serum cortisol response was found in the group of children with autism. Analysis showed significantly higher peak cortisol levels and prolonged duration and recovery of cortisol elevation following the blood-stick stressor in children with autism. This study suggests increased reactivity of the HPA axis to stress and novel stimuli in children with autism.
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Although a majority of adults live with a close relationship partner, little is known about whether and how partners' momentary affect and physiology covary, or "coregulate." This study used a dyadic multilevel modeling approach to explore the coregulation of spouses' mood states and cortisol levels in 30 married couples who sampled saliva and reported on mood states 4 times per day for 3 days. For both husbands and wives, own cortisol level was positively associated with partner's cortisol level, even after sampling time was controlled. For wives, marital satisfaction weakened the strength of this effect. Partner's negative mood was positively associated with own negative mood for both husbands and wives. Marital satisfaction fully moderated this effect, reducing the strength of the association between one's own and one's partner's negative mood states. Spouses' positive moods were not correlated. As expected, within-couple coregulation coefficients were stronger when mood and cortisol were sampled in the early morning and evening, when spouses were together at home, than during the workday. The results suggest that spouses' fluctuations in negative mood and cortisol levels are linked over several days and that marital satisfaction may buffer spouses from their partners' negative mood or stress state.
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In this study, the authors examined parent-adolescent cortisol associations in 45 families with adolescent children (24 girls; M age = 15.78 years, SD = 1.44 years). Family members' salivary cortisol levels were measured seven times a day on 2 typical weekdays. Family members provided reports of demographic and health variables, and adolescents rated parent-child relationship characteristics. After accounting for the effects of time of day and relevant demographic and health control variables on cortisol levels, hierarchical linear models indicated the presence of significant covariation over time in mother-adolescent cortisol (i.e., physiological synchrony). Furthermore, moderating tests revealed that mother-adolescent cortisol synchrony was strengthened among dyads characterized by mothers and adolescents spending more time together, and in families rated higher on levels of parent-youth shared activities and parental monitoring or supervision. Analysis of momentary characteristics indicated that maternal presence at the time of cortisol sampling lowered adolescent cortisol levels but did not account for mother-adolescent cortisol synchrony. Within-family physiological synchrony was amplified in momentary contexts of elevated maternal negative affect and elevated adolescent negative affect.
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In nonhuman mammals, the neuropeptide oxytocin has repeatedly been shown to increase social approach behavior and pair bonding. In particular, central nervous oxytocin reduces behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to social stress and is suggested to mediate the rewarding aspects of attachment in highly social species. However, to date there have been no studies investigating the effects of central oxytocin mechanisms on behavior and physiology in human couple interaction. In a double-blind placebo-controlled design, 47 heterosexual couples (total n = 94) received oxytocin or placebo intranasally before a standard instructed couple conflict discussion in the laboratory. The conflict session was videotaped and coded for verbal and nonverbal interaction behavior (e.g., eye contact, nonverbal positive behavior, and self-disclosure). Salivary cortisol was repeatedly measured during the experiment. Oxytocin significantly increased positive communication behavior in relation to negative behavior during the couple conflict discussion (F = 4.18, p = .047) and significantly reduced salivary cortisol levels after the conflict compared with placebo (F = 7.14, p = .011). These results are in line with animal studies indicating that central oxytocin facilitates approach and pair bonding behavior. Our findings imply an involvement of oxytocin in couple interaction and close relationships in humans.
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Seven hundred seventy-nine infants were screened at 4 months of age for motor and emotional reactivity. At age 9 months, infants who showed extreme patterns of motor and negative (n = 75) or motor and positive (n = 73) reactivity and an unselected control group (n = 86) were administered the Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery, and baseline electroencephalogram data were collected. Negatively reactive infants showed significantly more avoidance than positively reactive infants and displayed a pattern of right frontal electroencephalogram asymmetry. Positively reactive infants exhibited significantly more approach behavior than controls and exhibited a pattern of left frontal asymmetry. Results support the notion that approach-withdrawal bias underlies reactivity in infancy.
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The article describes a pilot and follow-up study of the preliminary development of a new tool to screen for Asperger syndrome (AS) and related social and communication conditions (the Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test, CAST) in children aged 4-11 years, in a non-clinical setting. In the pilot study, parents of 13 children with AS and of 37 typically developing children completed the CAST. There were significant differences between the AS and typical sample means. The pilot was used to establish preliminary cut-off scores for the CAST. In the main study, parents of 1150 primary-school-age children were sent the CAST, and 174 took part in the full data analysis. Results suggest that compared with other tools currently available, the CAST may be useful for identifying children at risk for AS and related conditions, in a mainstream non-clinical sample. Further research is ongoing.
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The presence of social support has been associated with decreased stress responsiveness. Recent animal studies suggest that the neuropeptide oxytocin is implicated both in prosocial behavior and in the central nervous control of neuroendocrine responses to stress. This study was designed to determine the effects of social support and oxytocin on cortisol, mood, and anxiety responses to psychosocial stress in humans. In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 37 healthy men were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test. All participants were randomly assigned to receive intranasal oxytocin (24 IU) or placebo 50 min before stress, and either social support from their best friend during the preparation period or no social support. Salivary free cortisol levels were suppressed by social support in response to stress. Comparisons of pre- and poststress anxiety levels revealed an anxiolytic effect of oxytocin. More importantly, the combination of oxytocin and social support exhibited the lowest cortisol concentrations as well as increased calmness and decreased anxiety during stress. Oxytocin seems to enhance the buffering effect of social support on stress responsiveness. These results concur with data from animal research suggesting an important role of oxytocin as an underlying biological mechanism for stress-protective effects of positive social interactions.
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This meta-analysis reviews 208 laboratory studies of acute psychological stressors and tests a theoretical model delineating conditions capable of eliciting cortisol responses. Psychological stressors increased cortisol levels; however, effects varied widely across tasks. Consistent with the theoretical model, motivated performance tasks elicited cortisol responses if they were uncontrollable or characterized by social-evaluative threat (task performance could be negatively judged by others), when methodological factors and other stressor characteristics were controlled for. Tasks containing both uncontrollable and social-evaluative elements were associated with the largest cortisol and adrenocorticotropin hormone changes and the longest times to recovery. These findings are consistent with the animal literature on the physiological effects of uncontrollable social threat and contradict the belief that cortisol is responsive to all types of stressors.
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To elucidate the differential saliency of infant emotions to mothers across interactive contexts, the authors examined the moderating role of observed infant affect during interactions with mother in the relation between maternal and laboratory-based ratings of infant temperament. Fifty-nine developmentally healthy 9-month-old infants were judged for degree of infant positive, infant negative, and mother-infant mutually positive affect during the course of object-focused and routine home-based activities with mother. Mothers completed the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (M. K. Rothbart, 1981), and infants underwent the Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery (H. H. Goldsmith & M. K. Rothbart, 1999). Results revealed that maternal and observer ratings of infant negativity converged when infants manifested high degrees of negative affect during routine home-based activities. Maternal and observer ratings of infant positivity converged when infants experienced low mutually positive affect during play. These findings support the hypothesis that maternal perceptions are based on mothers' experiences with their infants but that the salience of infant temperamental characteristics to mothers varies across emotion and interactive context.
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Autism is characterized by impairment in communication and social interaction, by repetitive behaviours and by difficulty in adapting to novel experiences. The objective of the current investigation was to replicate and extend our previous findings showing variable circadian rhythm and significant elevations in cortisol following exposure to a novel stimulus (mock magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]). Circadian rhythms of cortisol were estimated in 22 children with and 22 children without autism via analysis of salivary samples collected in the morning, afternoon and evening over 6 separate days. We assessed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responsiveness by examining changes in salivary cortisol in response to a mock MRI. One-half of the children were re-exposed to the MRI environment. Children with autism showed a decrease in cortisol in the morning over 6 days while maintaining higher evening values. Children with autism also showed more within-and between-subject variability in circadian rhythms. Although the cortisol values tended to be higher in some of the children with autism, a statistically significant elevation in cortisol in response to the initial mock MRI was not observed. Rather, both groups showed heightened cortisol at the arrival to the second visit to the imaging centre, suggesting an anticipatory response to the re-exposure to the mock MRI. Children with autism showed dysregulation of the circadian rhythm evidenced by variability between groups, between children and within individual child comparisons. Both groups demonstrated increased salivary cortisol in anticipation of re-exposure to the perceived stressor.
Article
Mother-child adrenocortical synchrony, the coupling of cortisol (CT) secretion in mother and child, has been associated with shared parent-child experiences and maladaptive familial contexts. Yet, few studies tested adrenocortical synchrony in diurnal CT patterns. Guided by the bio-behavioral synchrony model, we examined whether mother-child relational behavior and maternal psychopathology may moderate the degree of concordance between mother and child's diurnal CT. Ninety-seven mothers and their six-year old children participated in two groups; mothers diagnosed with major depression disorder (N = 28) and non-depressed controls (N = 69). Mother-child interactions were observed and coded for dyadic reciprocity and dyadic tension and diurnal cortisol was collected from mother and child over two consecutive weekend days. Concordance between maternal and child's diurnal CT was found, significant above and beyond time of measurement. Maternal depression, while associated with attenuated child diurnal CT variability, was unrelated to adrenocortical synchrony. Higher child diurnal CT production predicted a stronger linkage between maternal and child's diurnal CT, suggesting that greater child physiological stress is associated with increased susceptibility to the influences of maternal stress physiology. Mother-child reciprocity was related to lower adrenocortical synchrony. Findings suggest that higher adrenocortical synchrony is associated with greater physiological stress and less adaptive dyadic relational patterns. Results raise the possibility that diurnal adrenocortical synchrony taps a unique aspect of HPA-axis functioning whose role in the cross-generational transfer of stress physiology requires further research.
Article
Objective: Maternal stress in humans influences behavior of children and can be assessed using biological markers. Mothers and their one-month-old infants were recruited from an existing study to examine baseline maternal serum oxytocin and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis response to infant blood heel stick stress as measured by salivary cortisol in the dyads. Objectives were to explore (1) relationships between mother and infant cortisol levels, (2) gender differences in infant biologic cortisol response, and (3) the association of cortisol levels in the dyads and maternal oxytocin levels Methods: Forty-two mother-infant dyads provided biologic samples and self-report data. Maternal oxytocin samples were obtained. Initial salivary cortisol was assessed in both the mother and infant, followed by a heel stick blood draw. Twenty minutes later, salivary cortisol was collected again from dyads. Results: Self-report measures were negative for depression and risk for childhood neglect. Although oxytocin and baseline cortisol in the infants was higher in mothers that did some breast-feeding, there was no statistically significant difference (p = 0.2 and p = 0.1, respectively). Analyses showed (a) higher baseline cortisol in mothers was related to higher baseline cortisol in infants (p ≤ 0.0001), (b) following the stressor, female infants had a larger positive change in cortisol, after adjusting for baseline cortisol (p = 0.045), and (c) there was no relationship between dyad cortisol levels and maternal oxytocin. Conclusions: Maternal and infant biologic stress measures are related. Female infants have a larger hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal response to a blood draw stressor as measured by salivary cortisol than male infants.
Article
Do partners' levels of physiological arousal become linked in close relationships? The term physiological linkage describes covariation between people in their moment-to-moment physiological states. The current review presents a conceptual framework to guide research on linkage in romantic relationships and discusses the potential implications of being linked. Evidence of linkage was found across a broad range of physiological indices and in a variety of contexts, including during laboratory-based conflict and in daily life. Four hypotheses regarding how linkage relates to individual and interpersonal functioning are evaluated: (a) coactivation of the sympathetic nervous system or the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis is "bad," (b) moderate physiological linkage is "just right," (c) physiological linkage is problematic if the individual or couple is overloaded, and (d) the implications of physiological linkage depend on the emotional context. We found partial support for the first hypothesis and determined that more research is needed to evaluate the remaining hypotheses. Linkage in cortisol was negatively associated with relationship satisfaction; but, at the same time, linkage in multiple systems was positively associated with indices of relationship connectedness, such as the amount of time spent together and the ability to identify the emotions of one's partner. These results suggest that linkage may confer benefits but also may put couples at risk if they become entrenched in patterns of conflict or stress. With research in this area burgeoning in recent years, this review indicates that linkage is a promising construct with applications for interventions targeting individual health and couple functioning. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
Article
Sensitive periods (SP) in behavioral development appeared in the biological sciences during the first decade of the 20th century, and research in animal models beginning in the 1950s provide terminology and evidence for SP effects. This paper proposes a rigorous program for human SP research and argues that the complexity of the human brain and variability of the human ecology necessitate that SP effects must be studied in humans, employ longitudinal designs starting at birth, test mechanism-based hypotheses based on animal studies that manipulate early environments, and utilize high-risk conditions as “natural experiments.” In light of research on the molecular basis of critical periods and their sequential cascades, it is proposed that the oxytocin (OT) system, an ancient and integrative system that cross-talks with the stress, reward, immune, and brain stem mediated homeostatic systems and supports mammalian sociality, plays a unique role in experience-dependent plasticity that buttresses SP effects due to its (a) dendritic mode of release leading to autoregulated functioning primed by early experience, (b) pulsatile pattern of activity, and (c) special role in neural plasticity at the molecular and network assembly levels. Synchrony, the coordination of biology and behavior during social contact, is suggested as a mechanism by which SP exert their effect on OT functionality, the social brain, and adult sociality. Findings from four high-risk birth cohorts, each followed repeatedly from birth to 10 years, provide unique “natural experiments” for human SP research based on specific programs in animal models. These include prematurity (maternal proximity), multiple birth (peer rearing), postpartum depression (low licking and grooming), and chronic unpredictable trauma (maternal rotation, variable foraging demands). In each cohort, hypotheses are based on the missing environmental component during SP, and findings on social synchrony, OT functionality, stress response, emotion regulation, and mental health accord with the multilevel and dynamic principles of developmental psychopathology. The results on the potential for reparation versus chronicity following early deprivation highlight a flexible conceptualization of resilience based on human SP research. Consideration of SP effects at the molecular, endocrine, brain, and behavioral levels and in relation to the neural plasticity and multifinality of human social functions may assist in fine-tuning early detection and the construction of targeted individualized interventions.
Article
Preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit difficulties in handling social stress and utilizing efficient emotion regulation (ER) strategies to manage high arousal. While researchers called to assess ER in ASD, few studies utilized direct observations. We tested children’s behavioral and cortisol response to maternal and paternal unavailability and hypothesized that children with ASD will employ less complex ER strategies and their parents would show increased regulation facilitation effort to accommodate their child’s difficulties. Forty preschoolers with ASD were matched with 40 typically developing (TD) preschoolers. Children were seen twice for identical battery with mother or father in the face-to-face-still-face paradigm, a three-episode paradigm where parent-child play (free play (FP)) is interrupted by elimination of communication (still face (SF)) followed by resuming play (reunion (RE)). Micro-coding of parent and child’s social behavior and ER strategies was conducted. Parent and child’s cortisol was assessed at baseline, following stress, and at recovery. Children with ASD exhibited the typical SF effect, indexed by an increase in negative affect and decrease in positive communications, but employed more simple regulatory behavior (self-soothing, proximity-seeking) and less complex strategies involving attention redirection and substitutive play. Their parents used more regulation-facilitation behavior, both simple and complex. All children showed initial cortisol response to novelty, which declined over time. However, maternal presence suppressed initial cortisol response in children with ASD. Children with ASD form typical expectations of parental availability and their parents increase effort to help repair social rupture. Among children with ASD, maternal presence and regulation facilitation provide social buffering for the child’s HPA stress response in a manner similar to mammalian neonates. Results highlight the importance of assessing ER by combining direct observations and physiological measures and including fathers in empirical studies and intervention efforts for children with ASD during sensitive periods for social growth.
Article
This study evaluated continuity and change in maternal-child hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis attunement in early childhood. Participants were drawn from a prospective study of 1,292 mother–child dyads, which were racially diverse, predominantly low-income, and non-urban. Child focused stress tasks designed to elicit anger, fear, and frustration were administered during early infancy, later infancy, and toddlerhood. Mothers’ and children's saliva samples (later assayed for cortisol) were collected before and after the tasks. The strength of mother–child adrenocortical attunement was conserved across infancy and toddlerhood. The magnitude of maternal-child adrenocortical attunement decreased in response to the child-focused stress tasks. Maternal sensitivity and the child's task-related emotional reactivity moderated adrenocortical attunement across the task, with greater maternal sensitivity during a free-play, and lower levels of child emotional reactivity during the stress tasks, stabilizing attunement from pre- to post-task levels. The findings advance our understanding of individual differences in the social regulation of adrenocortical activity in early childhood. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol.
Article
Accelerated pubertal development has been linked to adverse early environments and may heighten subsequent mental and physical health risks. Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis functioning has been posited as a mechanism whereby stress may affect pubertal development, but the literature lacks prospective tests of this mechanism. The current study assessed 277 youth ( M = 10.84 years, SD = 1.14), 138 boys and 139 girls, who reported on their pubertal development and underwent the Trier Social Stress Test for Children at baseline and returned to the laboratory approximately 1 year later ( M = 1.12 years, range = 0.59–1.98 years). For girls, lower cortisol area under the curve (with respect to ground) at Time 1 predicted more advanced pubertal development at Time 2, controlling for Time 1 pubertal development. This association persisted after additional covariates including age, body mass index, race, and maltreatment history were introduced, and was driven by adrenal rather than gonadal development. Cortisol was not linked to boys' subsequent pubertal development, and no interaction by gender or by maltreatment appeared. These results suggest that attenuated cortisol, reported in other studies of children exposed to early adversity, may contribute to accelerated pubertal tempo in girls.
Article
The current study examined biomarkers of stress in war-exposed young children and addressed maternal and child factors that may correlate with children's stress response. Participants were 232 Israeli children aged 1.5-5 years, including 148 children exposed to continuous war. Similarly, 56 were diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 92 were defined as exposed-no-PTSD. Child cortisol (CT) and salivary alpha amylase (sAA), biomarkers of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and sympathetic-adrenal-medullary arms of the stress response, were measured at baseline, following challenge, and at recovery. Maternal CT and sAA, PTSD symptoms, and reciprocal parenting, and child negative emotionality and regulatory strategies were assessed. Differences between war-exposed children and controls emerged, but these were related to child PTSD status. Children with PTSD exhibited consistently low CT and sAA, exposed-no-PTSD displayed consistently high CT and sAA, and controls showed increase in CT following challenge and decrease at recovery and low sAA. Exposed children showed higher negative emotionality; however, whereas exposed-no-PTSD children employed comfort-seeking strategies, children with PTSD used withdrawal. Predictors of child CT included maternal CT, PTSD symptoms, low reciprocity, and negative emotionality. Findings suggest that high physiological arousal combined with approach strategies may be associated with greater resilience in the context of early trauma.
Article
Empathic communication between couples plays an important role in relationship quality and individual well-being and research has pointed to the role of oxytocin in providing the neurobiological substrate for pair-bonding and empathy. Here, we examined links between genetic variability on the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) and empathic behaviour at the initiation of romantic love. Allelic variations on five OXTR single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) previously associated with susceptibility to disorders of social functioning were genotyped in 120 new lovers: OXTRrs13316193, rs2254298, rs1042778, rs2268494 and rs2268490. Cumulative genetic risk was computed by summing risk alleles on each SNP. Couples were observed in support-giving interaction and behaviour was coded for empathic communication, including affective congruence, maintaining focus on partner, acknowledging partner's distress, reciprocal exchange and non-verbal empathy. Hierarchical linear modelling indicated that individuals with high OXTR risk exhibited difficulties in empathic communication. OXTR risk predicted empathic difficulties above and beyond the couple level, relationship duration, and anxiety and depressive symptoms. Findings underscore the involvement of oxytocin in empathic behaviour during the early stages of social affiliation, and suggest the utility of cumulative risk and plasticity indices on the OXTR as potential biomarkers for research on disorders of social dysfunction and the neurobiology of empathy.
Article
To explore the possibility that children’s adrenocortical reactions to parent-child conflict influence their vulnerability for internalising behaviour problems, we studied 62 mother-child dyads from the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project. Standardised measures of maternal, child, and family adjustment were collected. Mother’s and children’s saliva was sampled before and after a conflict-oriented mother-child interaction task and was later assayed for cortisol. The children’s pre-task cortisol scores were negatively associated with their internalising behaviour problems, their mother’s childhood levels of socially withdrawn behaviour and current psychosocial problems, as well as dimensions of family environment representing the open expression of aggression, anger, and conflict. Children’s cortisol levels after the interaction task were lowest for those raised by mothers with high childhood levels of aggressive behaviour problems, and in family environments characterised by rigid rules. Interrelationships between mother and child pre- and post-task cortisol levels were associated with maternal levels of childhood behaviour problems. The integration of measures of children’s adrenocortical activity into developmental studies of children at risk for psychosocial problems may reveal important clues regarding the processes by which adverse early rearing environments affect children’s internalising problem behaviour.
Article
We investigated the effects of timing and the course of maternal perinatal depressive symptoms on mother-infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) response profiles during an attachment stressor, as well as on within-dyad synchrony of stress profiles: coordination of HPA and sympathetic nervous system and infant-mother HPA attunement. Mothers (n = 86) completed the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale during pregnancy (Time 1 [T1]) and at 5 months (T2) and 18 months (T3) postnatal. At T3 mother-infant dyads completed the Strange Situation, and four saliva samples collected from both mothers and infants were assayed for cortisol and α-amylase. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to predict mother-infant cortisol response trajectories and within-dyad synchronies by main and interactive effects of T1-T3 Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale scores. Main effects of earlier (T1, T2) depressive symptoms predicted mothers' cortisol trajectories and coordination, and interactions of T1 with postnatal (T2 and T3) symptoms predicted infants' cortisol trajectories, coordination, and attunement. Decomposition of interactions revealed more marked effects on infant cortisol trajectories when the mother shifted from higher to lower depressive symptoms (or vice versa) across the perinatal period. Shifts from lower to higher symptoms also predicted inverse coordination of cortisol with salivary α-amylase and greater attunement of infant with mother cortisol. Implications for the development and transmission of stress dysregulation are discussed.
Article
In this study, associations were examined between cortisol levels of wives and husbands in 47 heterosexual married couples. Both partners' salivary cortisol levels were measured at the same moments seven times a day on 2 typical weekdays. After accounting for the effects of the diurnal rhythm of cortisol and relevant control variables, dyadic hierarchical linear modeling indicated significant positive linkages between partners' cortisol levels, consistent with the hypothesized within-couple physiological synchrony. Variables reflecting more (spousal presence) or less connectedness (loneliness, being alone) were also collected at the time of each cortisol sample. Results indicated that husbands' cortisol levels were higher at moments they reported feeling lonelier and lower at moments they were in the presence of their spouse. Wives' cortisol levels were higher at moments they were alone. In addition, wife-husband cortisol synchrony was stronger for husbands who spent relatively more time with their spouse across the study period-even after accounting for time spent with others in general. These findings suggest that marital partners evidence positive within-couple cortisol associations, and that connectedness (particularly physical closeness) may underpin spouses' physiological synchrony.
Article
Discovering the stress-buffering effects of social relationships has been one of the major findings in psychobiology in the last century. However, an understanding of the underlying neurobiological and psychological mechanisms of this buffering is only beginning to emerge. An important avenue of this research concerns the neurocircuitry that can regulate the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. The present review is a translational effort aimed at integrating animal models and human studies of the social regulation of the HPA axis from infancy to adulthood, specifically focusing on the process that has been named social buffering. This process has been noted across species and consists of a dampened HPA axis stress response to threat or challenge that occurs with the presence or assistance of a conspecific. We describe aspects of the relevant underlying neurobiology when enough information exists and expose major gaps in our understanding across all domains of the literatures we aimed to integrate. We provide a working conceptual model focused on the role of oxytocinergic systems and prefrontal neural networks as 2 of the putative biological mediators of this process, and propose that the role of early experiences is critical in shaping later social buffering effects. This synthesis points to both general future directions and specific experiments that need to be conducted to build a more comprehensive model of the HPA social buffering effect across the life span that incorporates multiple levels of analysis: neuroendocrine, behavioral, and social. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
Article
Despite the convenience of drawing analogies between organisms and "superorganism" colonies, a careful study shows the analogies to be misleading. Likewise, analogies between insect and human societies are questionable when the insect behavior is biologically determined and the human analog is culturally determined. Three examples discussed are communication, castes, and tradition. Much social behavior is related to trophallaxis, the reciprocal exchange of biologically adequate stimuli. But in man the process is so modified by cultural factors as to be unlike the process in insects. Opposed to trophallaxis is dominance, a disintegrative factor found in some, but not all societies. Co-operation is bio-social in insects, but psycho-social in primates. Consequently, the analogy is less instructive than the study of differences in co-operative behavior. 87-item bibliography. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Describes methods for determining sidedness and eye dominance in infants under 12 wk. of age, in 2-5 yr. olds, and in Ss over 5 yr. of age. The effects of imitation on developing left or right handedness is discussed. Research is noted which indicates the deleterious effects of crossed dominance. It is suggested that those children and adults who are experiencing ill effects due to crossed dominance should be encouraged to change their handedness. Methods for changing handedness are discussed. The beneficial aspects of a club which was developed for left handed students are described. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Social proximity and interaction attenuate cardiovascular arousal, facilitate the development of nonanxious temperament, inhibit the release of stress hormones, reduce threat-related neural activation, and generally promote health and longevity. Conversely, social subordination, rejection and isolation are powerful sources of stress and compromised health. Drawing on the biological principle of economy of action, perception/action links, and the brain’s propensity to act as a Bayesian predictor, Social Baseline Theory (SBT) proposes that the primary ecology to which human beings are adapted is one that is rich with other humans. Moreover, SBT suggests that the presence of other people helps individuals to conserve important and often metabolically costly somatic and neural resources through the social regulation of emotion.
Article
This study associated two temperament measures: The Rothbart Infant Behavior Questionnaire (IBQ) and the Goldsmith and Rothbart Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery. Seventy-one infants were observed. Mothers completed the IBQ. Observed anger related to reported distress to limitations, whereas pleasure expressions related to reported smiling and laughter.
Article
Background: It is well accepted that emotion regulation difficulties are a serious concern for children with ASD, yet empirical studies of this construct are limited for this population. The present study describes group differences between high functioning children with autism and their typical peers in frustration and discrete coping strategies for emotion regulation. We also use sequential analyses to test differences in the efficacy of individual coping strategies at regulating children's frustration. Methods: Subjects were 20 children with autism (M = 59 months) and 20 developmentally matched typically developing children (M = 50 months). Measures of children's frustration (negative facial expressions and behaviors, negative vocalizations, resignation) and emotion regulation coping strategies were observationally coded from structured video recordings. Results: Children with autism displayed a higher intensity and duration of resignation, and the group difference became most pronounced when children worked alone during the parent-absent segment of the locked box task. Children with autism used significantly more avoidance and venting strategies, and fewer constructive strategies than typical children. Sequential analyses revealed that social support strategies (orienting and verbalizing to the experimenter) were ineffective for children with autism, while these behaviors, vocal venting, and distraction strategies were all effective for typically developing children. Conclusions: The results go beyond the recent literature by offering a rich description of children's efforts to regulate their frustration when faced with challenge, and point to important contextual differences in the efficacy of children's coping strategies.
Article
A conceptual model detailing the process of bio-behavioral synchrony between the online physiological and behavioral responses of attachment partners during social contact is presented as a theoretical and empirical framework for the study of affiliative bonds. Guided by an ethological behavior-based approach, we suggest that micro-level social behaviors in the gaze, vocal, affective, and touch modalities are dynamically integrated with online physiological processes and hormonal response to create dyad-specific affiliations. Studies across multiple attachments throughout life are presented and demonstrate that the extended oxytocin (OT) system provides the neurohormonal substrate for parental, romantic, and filial attachment in humans; that the three prototypes of affiliation are expressed in similar constellations of social behavior; and that OT is stable over time within individuals, is mutually-influencing among partners, and that mechanisms of cross-generation and inter-couple transmission relate to coordinated social behavior. Research showing links between peripheral and genetic markers of OT with concurrent parenting and memories of parental care; between administration of OT to parent and infant's physiological readiness for social engagement; and between neuropeptides and the online synchrony of maternal and paternal brain response in social-cognitive and empathy networks support the hypothesis that human attachment develops within the matrix of biological attunement and close behavioral synchrony. The findings have conceptual implications for the study of inter-subjectivity as well as translational implications for the treatment of social disorders originating in early childhood, such as autism spectrum disorders, or those associated with disruptions to early bonding, such as postpartum depression or child abuse and neglect. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Social Behavior.
Article
The consequences of prenatal maternal stress for development were examined in 125 full-term infants at 3, 6, and 12 months of age. Maternal cortisol and psychological state were evaluated 5 times during pregnancy. Exposure to elevated concentrations of cortisol early in gestation was associated with a slower rate of development over the 1st year and lower mental development scores at 12 months. Elevated levels of maternal cortisol late in gestation, however, were associated with accelerated cognitive development and higher scores at 12 months. Elevated levels of maternal pregnancy-specific anxiety early in pregnancy were independently associated with lower 12-month mental development scores. These data suggest that maternal cortisol and pregnancy-specific anxiety have programming influences on the developing fetus.
Article
This study examined the relationship between mother and infant adrenocortical levels and reactivity to an emotion eliciting task. The impact of intimate partner violence (IPV) on these relationships was assessed as a moderator. The sample (n = 702 mother-infant dyads) was racially diverse and from predominantly low-income, rural communities. During a home visit, the dyad's saliva was sampled before, 20 min, and 40 min after standardized tasks designed to elicit the infant's emotional arousal and later assayed for cortisol. Mothers completed self-report measures of their partner's violence, and parenting behaviors were assessed via structured interview and mother-child interactions. In response to the task, infants had positive, and mothers had negative, cortisol slopes. Contrary to expectations, there were no IPV-related differences in mean pretask cortisol levels or reactivity in the mothers or infants. Mother-infant dyads from households characterized by either (1) violence or (2) restrictive and punitive parenting behaviors exhibited correlated cortisol reactivity measured in response to the infant challenge task. The findings suggest that social contextual features of the early caregiving environment may influence individual differences in the coordination between maternal and infant adrenocortical reactivity.
Article
The stress response system is comprised of an intricate interconnected network that includes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. The HPA axis maintains the organism's capacity to respond to acute and prolonged stressors and is a focus of research on the sequelae of stress. Human studies of the HPA system have been facilitated enormously by the development of salivary assays which measure cortisol, the steroid end-product of the HPA axis. The use of salivary cortisol is prevalent in child development stress research. However, in order to measure children's acute cortisol reactivity to circumscribed stressors, researchers must put children in stressful situations which produce elevated levels of cortisol. Unfortunately, many studies on the cortisol stress response in children use paradigms that fail to produce mean elevations in cortisol. This paper reviews stressor paradigms used with infants, children, and adolescents to guide researchers in selecting effective stressor tasks. A number of different types of stressor paradigms were examined, including: public speaking, negative emotion, relationship disruption/threatening, novelty, handling, and mild pain paradigms. With development, marked changes are evident in the effectiveness of the same stressor paradigm to provoke elevations in cortisol. Several factors appear to be critical in determining whether a stressor paradigm is successful, including the availability of coping resources and the extent to which, in older children, the task threatens the social self. A consideration of these issues is needed to promote the implementation of more effective stressor paradigms in human developmental psychoendocrine research.
Article
Thirty married couples were studied during naturalistic interactions to determine the extent to which variation in marital satisfaction could be accounted for by physiological and affective patterns between and within spouses. The authors hypothesized that (a) compared to nondistressed couples' interactions, distressed couples' interactions would show greater physiological interrelatedness or "linkage," more negative affect, and more reciprocity of negative affect and (b) these differences would be more pronounced when the interaction was high in conflict (discussing a marital problem) as opposed to low in conflict (discussing the events of the day). Heart rate, skin conductance, pulse transmission time, and somatic activity from both spouses were analyzed using bivariate time-series techniques to derive a measure of physiological linkage. Self-report affective data (obtained using a video-recall procedure) were analyzed using sequential analyses to derive a measure of affect reciprocity. The hypotheses were strongly supported; 60% of the variance in marital satisfaction was accounted for using measures of physiological linkage alone. Additional nonredundant variance was accounted for by the other physiological and affective measures.
Article
The Toddler Behavior Assessment Questionnaire (TBAQ) was constructed by an iterative process of item generation intended to ensure content validity, by repeated item analyses focused on internal consistency and discriminant properties, and by scale revision. During the construction and initial validation processes reported in this article, data from 1,012 records were utilized. Internal consistency reliability estimates typically exceeded .80 for each scale. Evidence for convergent validity with other temperament questionnaires and for longitudinal stability was also obtained. Besides yielding a promising instrument, this assessment research has conceptual ramifications. For instance, components of negative affectivity (anger proneness and fearfulness) were independent, and item analyses suggested that shyness and other fears were independent as well. Consistent with most current views of temperament, the TBAQ temperament scales revealed some relationship and/or contextual specificity, as exemplified by the finding of only moderate parental agreement. The rank ordering on most temperament dimensions was impressively preserved from age 12 months, when the Infant Behavior Questionnaire (IBQ) was used, to age 18 months, when the TBAQ was used (especially when subtle differences between the IBQ and TBAQ were taken into account). Most of the analyses benefit from replication.
Article
Adaptation in the face of potentially stressful challenges involves activation of neural, neuroendocrine and neuroendocrine-immune mechanisms. This has been called "allostasis" or "stability through change" by Sterling and Eyer (Fisher S., Reason J. (eds): Handbook of Life Stress, Cognition and Health. J. Wiley Ltd. 1988, p. 631), and allostasis is an essential component of maintaining homeostasis. When these adaptive systems are turned on and turned off again efficiently and not too frequently, the body is able to cope effectively with challenges that it might not otherwise survive. However, there are a number of circumstances in which allostatic systems may either be overstimulated or not perform normally, and this condition has been termed "allostatic load" or the price of adaptation (McEwen and Stellar, Arch. Int. Med. 1993; 153: 2093.). Allostatic load can lead to disease over long periods. Types of allostatic load include (1) frequent activation of allostatic systems; (2) failure to shut off allostatic activity after stress; (3) inadequate response of allostatic systems leading to elevated activity of other, normally counter-regulated allostatic systems after stress. Examples will be given for each type of allostatic load from research pertaining to autonomic, CNS, neuroendocrine, and immune system activity. The relationship of allostatic load to genetic and developmental predispositions to disease is also considered.
Article
Although a great deal is known about physiological responding to stress in nonhuman animals, and also about individual differences in behavioral attunement in humans, physiological attunement between human mothers and their children has never been studied. The current study examined attunement in adrenocortical response between mother and child in the context of the child's exposure to a novel and potentially challenging task. Children ranging in age from two to four years of age walked on a balance beam for the first time while mothers watched on a monitor from the next room. Saliva samples were collected from both mothers and children before and 30 minutes following the beam walk. Individual differences in behavioral attunement were assessed from a videotaped mother-child teaching task, and coded for maternal sensitivity. We expected that mothers rated as highly sensitive would show better physiological attunement with their children's adrenocortical response to the balance beam walk than less sensitive mothers. We did not expect that all children would show a cortisol elevation in response to the task. Rather, we were interested in the degree to which mothers "matched" children's adrenocortical fluctuations, regardless of elevations or decreases in cortisol. Results supported the hypothesis. In the highly sensitive group, mothers' and children's adrenocortical responses to the child beam walk were significantly correlated, and in the less sensitive group the responses were not significantly related. Findings suggest that physiological attunement may co-occur with behavioral sensitivity in normal mother-child relationships.
Article
The nature of mother-child interaction in autism and the maternal approach characteristics that elicit social response in children with autism were examined in two studies. Mother-child play sessions of 24 preschool children with autism and 24 typically developing preschoolers were compared in Study 1, and play sessions of 9 mothers with their autistic child and with their nonautistic child were compared in Study 2. Mother-child interactions were coded using the Approach Withdrawal Interaction Coding System to quantify maternal approach behaviors and child responses. Results of Study 1 indicate that, although the quantity of approaches did not differ between mothers with their autistic children and mothers with their nonautistic children, there were qualitative differences. Mothers used more physical contact, more high-intensity behaviors, and fewer social verbal approaches with autistic children. Results of Study 2 replicated these findings with mothers showing a similar pattern of approach toward their autistic children but not their nonautistic children. Although autistic children displayed lower contingency to maternal approaches in general, they showed greater responsiveness to approaches involving increased physical proximity and/or containing nonverbal object use. Mothers socially engaged both autistic and nonautistic children. The implications for parent training and intervention are discussed.
Article
Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) Modules 1-3 item and domain total distributions were reviewed for 1,630 assessments of children aged 14 months to 16 years with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or with heterogeneous non-spectrum disorders. Children were divided by language level and age to yield more homogeneous cells. Items were chosen that best differentiated between diagnoses and were arranged into domains on the basis of multi-factor item-response analysis. Reflecting recent research, the revised algorithm now consists of two new domains, Social Affect and Restricted, Repetitive Behaviors (RRB), combined to one score to which thresholds are applied, resulting in generally improved predictive value.
Article
Synchrony, a construct used across multiple fields to denote the temporal relationship between events, is applied to the study of parent-infant interactions and suggested as a model for intersubjectivity. Three types of timed relationships between the parent and child's affective behavior are assessed: concurrent, sequential, and organized in an ongoing patterned format, and the development of each is charted across the first year. Viewed as a formative experience for the maturation of the social brain, synchrony impacts the development of self-regulation, symbol use, and empathy across childhood and adolescence. Different patterns of synchrony with mother, father, and the family and across cultures describe relationship-specific modes of coordination. The capacity to engage in temporally-matched interactions is based on physiological mechanisms, in particular oscillator systems, such as the biological clock and cardiac pacemaker, and attachment-related hormones, such as oxytocin. Specific patterns of synchrony are described in a range of child-, parent- and context-related risk conditions, pointing to its ecological relevance and usefulness for the study of developmental psychopathology. A perspective that underscores the organization of discrete relational behaviors into emergent patterns and considers time a central parameter of emotion and communication systems may be useful to the study of interpersonal intimacy and its potential for personal transformation across the lifespan.
Article
This study on sensitivity and attachment included 55 toddlers and their parents. Samples included children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), mental retardation, language delay, and typical development. Children were diagnosed at 4 years of age. Two years before diagnosis, attachment was assessed with the Strange Situation procedure, and parental sensitivity and child involvement during free play were assessed with the Emotional Availability Scale. Parents of children with ASD were equally sensitive as parents of children without ASD, but their children showed more attachment disorganization and less child involvement. More sensitive parents had more secure children, but only in the group without ASD. Less severe autistic symptoms in the social domain predicted more attachment security. Autism challenges the validity of attachment theory.
Article
There is a close relation between the psychosocial environment of the infant--including the perception of maternal behaviour--and cortisol levels of the infant. One previous study has also demonstrated a correlation between mother and infant mean cortisol levels. In this study, this relation was further explored, also including father cortisol levels. Saliva cortisol samples were collected from 51 six-months-olds and their parents on the same day in the morning, afternoon and evening. Analyses were performed with a radioimmunoassay technique. All mothers were at home with their child at this age and 47/51 mothers were breast feeding. Strong correlations were found between mother and child levels on all sampling occasions whereas weaker correlations were found between father and child levels and only in the afternoon and the evening samples. There was also a strong relation between waking up/bedtime-difference in mother and child and a weaker relation between the corresponding measure in father and child. The stronger mother-infant than father-infant cortisol level correlations probably mirror that mother and infant not only have genetic similarities but also have been exposed to similar environmental conditions to a higher degree than father and infant.
Article
Sethre-Hofstad et al. [2002, Psychoneuroendocrinology 27:731-747] found that behaviorally well-attuned or sensitive parents showed better physiological attunement with their 2- to 4-year-old toddlers' adrenocortical responses to a potentially challenging task than less sensitive parents. In the present study we aimed to replicate this finding in a sample of 83 parents with 15-month-old infants. Parental and infant cortisol responses were assessed using saliva samples collected before and 21 min after the child's confrontation with a stranger and a moving robot. Infant behaviors reflecting distress/uncertainty during the stranger-robot session were rated from videotape. Parental sensitivity was observed during a parent-infant teaching episode. Our findings replicate those of Sethre-Hofstad et al. [2002, Psychoneuroendocrinology 27:731-747] by showing correlated parent-infant cortisol responses for sensitive parents but not for less sensitive parents. Furthermore, sensitive parents cortisol responses were associated with their children's distress/uncertainty during the stranger-robot episode, whereas this was not true for less sensitive parents. Results indicate an important connection between behavior and physiology in parent-infant interactions that deserve more research.