Salivary cortisol and cognitive development in infants from low-income communities

The Family Life Project Investigators

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early stress exposure is proposed to have significant lasting effects on cognitive development. The glucocorticoid hormone cortisol, a product of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis, is a particular focus of research, however, the majority of past research has been based on studies of older children and adults. Evidence linking cortisol levels in infancy with cognitive development is lacking. In a large cohort sample of infants (N = 1091) oversampled for psychosocial risk, we tested whether basal cortisol levels and cortisol reactivity to emotional stressors administered at 7 and 15 months of age were associated with cognitive development measured at 15 months. Cognitive development was measured using the Mental Development Index of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. Multiple regression analyses indicated that basal cortisol levels at 15 months, and to a lesser extent at seven months, were inversely associated with infant cognitive development after adjusting for psychosocial and obstetric risk. The findings provide some of the first evidence that HPA axis activity in infancy is associated with early cognitive development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-121
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017


  • Cortisol
  • HPA axis
  • allostatic load
  • cognitive development
  • infancy
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Salivary cortisol and cognitive development in infants from low-income communities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this