Homelessness represents a context of risk for child development. Yet, many homeless children show good develop outcomes, nonetheless. The processes of risk and resilience that contribute to this variability involve adaptive systems impacted by factors across levels of analysis, such as cortisol and physiology, executive functions (EF) and other aspects of psychological functioning, and parenting behavior and the family context. This study employs a resilience framework that is grounded in developmental-ecological theory and recognizes factors at multiple levels of analysis. The goal is to elucidate explanatory models of the processes of risk and resilience by incorporating relationships with cortisol, a component of physiological adaptive systems related to the stress response, self-regulation, and other functions.
Families in this study were all staying in an emergency homeless shelter and contained a child entering kindergarten or first grade. Children were separated from caregivers and completed a session of cognitive tasks that assessed executive functions and other abilities, followed by a session of parent-child interaction tasks. Saliva samples were collected throughout both sessions and assayed for cortisol concentrations. Parents reported on risk factors and stressful negative life events for each child. Initial levels of child cortisol were negatively related to EF, affirming a proposed inverted-U relationship between cortisol and cognition among this sample of high-risk children. Higher rates of stressful, negative life events were not related to cortisol, nor was positive parenting behavior. However, harsh, hostile, and insensitive parenting behaviors were related to higher levels of child cortisol, but only during the session when parent and child were together. There were no differences based on variables of interested when it came to changes in cortisol over either session. Results are discussed with respect to proposed mechanisms of the interface between cortisol, parenting and EF at different levels of analysis in the context of high developmental risk.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2011. Major: Child Psychology. Advisor: Ann S. Masten. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 138 pages, appendices A-G.
Cutuli, Joseph J..
Context, cortisol, and executive functions among children experiencing homelessness..
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.