Mother-child adrenocortical synchrony; Moderation by dyadic relational behavior

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Abstract

Mother-child adrenocortical synchrony, the coupling of cortisol (CT) secretion in mother and child, has been associated with shared parent-child experiences and maladaptive familial contexts. Yet, few studies tested adrenocortical synchrony in diurnal CT patterns. Guided by the bio-behavioral synchrony model, we examined whether mother-child relational behavior and maternal psychopathology may moderate the degree of concordance between mother and child's diurnal CT. Ninety-seven mothers and their six-year old children participated in two groups; mothers diagnosed with major depression disorder (N = 28) and non-depressed controls (N = 69). Mother-child interactions were observed and coded for dyadic reciprocity and dyadic tension and diurnal cortisol was collected from mother and child over two consecutive weekend days. Concordance between maternal and child's diurnal CT was found, significant above and beyond time of measurement. Maternal depression, while associated with attenuated child diurnal CT variability, was unrelated to adrenocortical synchrony. Higher child diurnal CT production predicted a stronger linkage between maternal and child's diurnal CT, suggesting that greater child physiological stress is associated with increased susceptibility to the influences of maternal stress physiology. Mother-child reciprocity was related to lower adrenocortical synchrony. Findings suggest that higher adrenocortical synchrony is associated with greater physiological stress and less adaptive dyadic relational patterns. Results raise the possibility that diurnal adrenocortical synchrony taps a unique aspect of HPA-axis functioning whose role in the cross-generational transfer of stress physiology requires further research.

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