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PSYC 414 Chapter Notes -Child Care, Playtime, Cortisol

Course Code
PSYC 414
Frances Aboud

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Morning-to-Afternoon Increases in Cortisol Concentrations for Infants and
Toddlers at Child Care: Age Differences and Behavioral Correlates
Watamura, Donzella, Alwin, and Gunnar
Preschool-age children (3-5 yrs) response physiologically to challenge of navigating
complex social environments with increased cortisol production over the childcare day
Cortisol – primary hormone product of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis
oHighest level of cortisol production around 30 min after wake-up and decline
throughout the day
oLevels are sensitive to physical and emotional stressors – often described as
stress-sensitive hormone
In animal studies, animas as infants were exposed to conditions that activated the
hypothalamic level of HPA axis
oElevated cortisol levels impair immune functioning increasing susceptibility to
infectious disease
Child care days vs. Non-child care days:
oChildren at childcare exhibited increased cortisol levels from midmorning to
midafternoon (largest among 3 and 4 y.o.)
oBy 7-8 yrs, children showed similar pattern of decrease in cortisol levels from
midmorning to midafternoon at child care and at home
Quality of childcare setting (only settings in good to excellent range were studied):
oCenter-based and family-based child care settings preschoolers produced larger
rises in cortisol over the day if the site was of lower quality
oGroup-care settings (peer play as primary activity), children who are less able to
enter into play and children whose behaviors lead other children to dislike or
avoid them may experience group-care contexts as stressful
Two hypotheses: predict children < 3 yrs will exhibit larger increases in cortisol over
child care day than older children
oWill not be seen among infants in child care, but once children transition to
toddler classrooms (days is more organized towards peer play)
oRising pattern might be at peak during infancy period, particularly towards 1st
birthday, and begin to exhibit behavioral distress at separation
Two centers were university based (toddlers and infants)
Two centers were YWCA based (infants only)
Total = 133 children
Exclusion criteria: children members of current child care room < 1 month (n=5);
diagnosed with developmental disabilities (n=0); attended child care < 30 hrs per week
Sample = 67
Factors did not differ on ethnicity
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Care centers evaluated using ECERS, median score = 5.34
oRange of 4.2 to 6.8
oOne of classrooms received average scores on ECERS, other classrooms scored in
good to excellent range
Infant rooms:
o2-4 adults and 4 to 9 children (ratio of 1:2-3)
oFor each infant, only adults and a few children were available for interaction
Toddler rooms:
o2-4 adults and 12-15 children (ratio of 1:4-6)
oWhen toddlers were awake, many children and adults typically available for
Infant classrooms – coded by 1 of 2 trained coders
oSampled after their morning or afternoon nap and before the late morning or late
afternoon feeding
Toddler classrooms – coded by 2 of 5 trained coders
oSampled after the indoor free play period but before children went outside, and
afternoon taken after nap but before the late afternoon snack
1 hr in morning, 1 hr in afternoon for 4 days (per child)
Reduce likelihood of presence of coders affecting child’s behavior coders visited
rooms daily for several days until lead teacher felt children were behaving normally
Children given grains of Kool-Aid to stimulate saliva flow then mouthed cotton rolls
I. Behavior
a. Aggregate behavior codes:
i. Distress: percentage of intervals child was coded as crying during at least
1 min. or screaming intensely at any time during interval
ii. Amount of peer play: percentage of time spent in parallel, associative, or
cooperative play
iii. Complexity of peer play: weighted sum of time spent in parallel,
associative, and cooperative play
b. Play types (Parten):
i. Parallel play = time spent near other children using same materials but not
ii. Associative play = time spent playing with other children where materials
are exchanged or discussed
iii. Cooperative play = organized play with clear membership in the play
c. Control for variations in coding intervals btwn infants and toddlers scores for
distress and play were divided by number of coding intervals
II. Temperament
a. TBAQ (Toddler Behavior Assessment Questionnaire) was reduced to be more
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