Prenatal mother–father cortisol linkage predicts infant executive functions at 24 months

the New Fathers and Mothers Study (NewFAMS) Team

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study investigated associations between prenatal mother–father cortisol linkage and infant executive functions. Data come from an international sample (N = 358) of predominantly white and middle- to upper-class first-time parents. During late pregnancy, parents collected diurnal salivary cortisol samples and reported on levels of psychological stress. At 24 months, children completed a battery of executive function tasks. Parent cortisol linkage was operationalized as the time-dependent, within-dyad association between maternal and paternal diurnal cortisol. Results indicated that prenatal linkage was positively related to infant executive functions, suggesting that stronger mother–father cortisol linkage was associated with higher executive function scores. Additionally, this relation was moderated by paternal average cortisol levels such that executive function scores were lower when fathers had higher average cortisol levels and linkage was weak. This association suggests that elevated paternal cortisol amplifies the negative relation between lower cortisol linkage and lower infant executive function scores. Importantly, these findings were observed while controlling for observational measures of caregiving and self-report measures of psychosocial functioning and infant social-emotional behavior. These results suggest that prenatal linkage of mother's and father's stress physiology plays a potentially important part in programming and regulating infant neurocognitive development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22151
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • co-regulation
  • cortisol
  • executive function
  • fathers
  • self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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