Marceau, K., Ram, N., Neiderhiser, J. M., Laurent, H. K., Shaw, D. S., Fisher, P. A., Natsuaki, M. & Leve, L. D. (2013). Disentangling the effects of genetic, prenatal, and parenting influences on children’s cortisol. Stress, 16, 607–615.
Abstract: Developmental plasticity models hypothesize the role of genetic and prenatal environmental influences on the development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and highlight that genes and the prenatal environment may moderate early postnatal environmental influences on HPA functioning. This article examines the interplay of genetic, prenatal, and parenting influences across the first 4.5 years of life on a novel index of children’s cortisol variability. Repeated measures data were obtained from 134 adoption-linked families, adopted children and both their adoptive parents and birth mothers, who participated in a longitudinal, prospective US domestic adoption study. Genetic and prenatal influences moderated associations between inconsistency in overreactive parenting from child age 9 months to 4.5 years and children’s cortisol variability at 4.5 years differently for mothers and fathers. Among children whose birth mothers had high morning cortisol, adoptive fathers’ inconsistent overreactive parenting predicted higher cortisol variability, whereas among children with low birth mother morning cortisol adoptive fathers’ inconsistent overreactive parenting predicted lower cortisol variability. Among children who experienced high levels of prenatal risk, adoptive mothers’ inconsistent overreactive parenting predicted lower cortisol variability and adoptive fathers’ inconsistent overreactive parenting predicted higher cortisol variability, whereas among children who experienced low levels of prenatal risk there were no associations between inconsistent overreactive parenting and children’s cortisol variability. Findings supported developmental plasticity models and uncovered novel developmental, gene X environment, and prenatal X environment influences on children’s cortisol functioning.