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PSYC 414 (2)

Morning-to-Afternoon Increases in Cortisol Concentrations for Infants and Toddlers at Child Care: Age Differences and Behavioral Correlates (Watamura et al.)

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PSYC 414
Frances Aboud

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 o Highest level of cortisol production around 30 min after wake-up and decline throughout the day o Levels 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 o Elevated cortisol levels impair immune functioning  increasing susceptibility to infectious disease • Child care days vs. Non-child care days: o Children at childcare exhibited increased cortisol levels from midmorning to midafternoon (largest among 3 and 4 y.o.) o By 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): o Center-based and family-based child care settings preschoolers produced larger rises in cortisol over the day if the site was of lower quality o Group-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 o Will not be seen among infants in child care, but once children transition to toddler classrooms (days is more organized towards peer play) o Rising pattern might be at peak during infancy period, particularly towards 1st birthday, and begin to exhibit behavioral distress at separation METHOD Participants • 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 (n=17) • Sample = 67 • Factors did not differ on ethnicity Settings • Care centers evaluated using ECERS, median score = 5.34 o Range of 4.2 to 6.8 o One of classrooms received average scores on ECERS, other classrooms scored in good to excellent range • Infant rooms: o 2-4 adults and 4 to 9 children (ratio of 1:2-3) o For each infant, only adults and a few children were available for interaction • Toddler rooms: o 2-4 adults and 12-15 children (ratio of 1:4-6) o When toddlers were awake, many children and adults typically available for interaction Procedures • Infant classrooms – coded by 1 of 2 trained coders o Sampled after their morning or afternoon nap and before the late morning or late afternoon feeding • Toddler classrooms – coded by 2 of 5 trained coders o Sampled 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 Measures 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 interacting 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 group 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 appropriate for a child care teacher (since originally developed for parents) b. Four scales: i. Positive Affect: “laughs aloud in play” ii. Attend: “spends time just looking at play things” iii. Social Fear: “clings when introduced to a stranger” (main focus of study)
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