Development and Psychopathology

Diverse patterns of neuroendocrine activity in maltreated children

a1 Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester


Cortisol regulation was investigated in a sample of school-aged maltreated (n = 175) and demographically comparable low-income nonmaltreated (n = 209) children in the context of a day camp research program. Overall group differences between maltreated and nonmaltreated children were not found for average morning or average afternoon cortisol levels. However, significant variations were found that were based on the subtypes of maltreatment that the children had experienced. Maltreated children who had been both physically and sexually abused (as well as neglected or emotionally maltreated) exhibited substantial elevations in morning cortisol levels; children who had high (>1 SD) cortisol levels in both the morning and afternoon were also overrepresented in the multiple abuse group. Developmental timing of maltreatment did not account for these group differences, whereas the severity of sexual abuse was implicated. In contrast to the multiple abuse group, a subgroup of physically abused children showed evidence of a trend toward lower morning cortisol relative to nonmaltreated children with a significantly smaller decrease in cortisol levels from morning to afternoon. The findings are discussed in terms of the diversity of atypical cortisol regulation patterns that are exhibited among maltreated children.

c1 Dante Cicchetti, PhD, Director, Mt. Hope Family Center, and Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Pediatrics, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608.