Child maltreatment, dating perpetration of physical assault, and cortisol reactivity among disadvantaged female adolescents

L. Oriana Linares, Patrick E. Shrout, Anne Nucci-Sack, Angela Diaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Few studies have examined hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis stress reactivity and its relationship to histories of child maltreatment and physical aggression. We examined the relation of a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and perpetration of dating violence to patterns of cortisol change before (resting) and after (reactivity) exposure to a laboratory stressor. Methods: In a sample of 40 disadvantaged sexually active female adolescent patients (ages 14-17 years), we collected self-reports of lifetime child maltreatment (5 types) and past-year female perpetration of physical assault (PA) acts toward a romantic partner. We assessed changes in salivary cortisol trajectories during resting and reactivity phases following the viewing of a teen dating violence vignette. Results: Reports of CSA (CSA+ group) were associated with reports of perpetration of severe dating PA (PA+ group), but the relation of these reports to laboratory-assessed patterns of cortisol changes following the stressor was opposite. As compared with subjects without victimization or perpetration histories (referent group), the CSA+ group showed the most pronounced positive slope (reactivity), whereas the PA+ group showed the least positive slope following the laboratory stressor after the overlap between these groups was statistically adjusted. While showing less reactivity to the laboratory stressor, the PA+ group had higher levels of resting cortisol, which stayed high during reactivity as compared to the referent group. Conclusion: The laboratory paradigm to elicit neuroendocrine stress-related cortisol reactivity appears to be a promising tool for identifying altered cortisol physiology among female adolescents with mixed histories of CSA and perpetration of dating PA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-259
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Child maltreatment
  • Cortisol reactivity
  • Teen dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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