Cortisol reactivity to social stress as a mediator of early adversity on risk and adaptive outcomes
Children chronically exposed to stress early in life are at increased risk for maladaptive outcomes, though the physiological mechanisms driving these effects are unknown. Cortisol reactivity was tested as a mediator of the relation between prenatal substance exposure and/or early adversity on adaptive and maladaptive outcomes. Data were drawn from a prospective longitudinal study of prenatal substance exposure (N = 860). Cortisol reactivity was assessed at age 11. Among African Americans, prenatal substance exposure exerted an indirect effect through early adversity and cortisol reactivity to predict externalizing behavior, delinquency, and a positive student–teacher relationship at age 11. Decreased cortisol reactivity was related to maladaptive outcomes, and increased cortisol reactivity predicted better executive functioning and a more positive student–teacher relationship.