This study prospectively examined the effect of intimate partner violence (IPV) on adrenocortical reactivity and recovery during early childhood. The sample (n = 1102 mother-infant dyads; 49.2% male) was racially diverse and from predominantly low-income, rural communities. To measure IPV exposure mothers completed the Conflicts Tactics Scale, and her caretaking behaviors were observed when her child was approximately 7, 15, and 24 months of age. Children's saliva samples, later assayed for cortisol, were collected around challenge tasks designed to elicit emotional reactivity. IPV was related to a trajectory of increased cortisol reactivity from infancy to toddlerhood. By contrast, the trajectory for non-IPV-exposed children decreased in cortisol reactivity across 7 to 24 months of age. At the 24-month assessment, on average, toddlers did not exhibit a cortisol reaction; however, those exposed to high levels of violence continued to have reactivity. Accumulative levels of IPV across the first 2 years of life predicted cortisol reactivity at 24 months of age. Early (7-month) sensitive maternal behavior moderated this relationship, so that only children exposed to both early insensitivity and high accumulated IPV exhibited increased reactivity at the 24-month assessment. Findings are discussed in relation to the risky family framework.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health