Cortisol and alpha-amylase levels of preschool children while attending child care: relationships with indicators of classroom quality

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Bridget E. Hatfield (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Linda Hestenes

Abstract: Accumulating evidence suggests children enrolled in full-time child care often display afternoon elevations of the hormone cortisol, which is an indicator of stress. Another physiological measure of stress is alpha-amylase. Recent advances in immunoassays have allowed for the measurement of activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the autonomic sympathetic nervous system from saliva, and measurement of both systems provides a more complete understanding of activity in the stress response system. This study is the first to examine both cortisol and alpha-amylase in children attending child care. The current study examined whether specific indicators of classroom quality were linked to cortisol and alpha-amylase output in preschool children. A diverse sample of Sixty-one preschool children nested in 14 classrooms of varying quality participated in this study. Classroom quality was assessed using numerous approaches to quality and child salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase were examined at eight times over two days. An afternoon elevation in cortisol was not evident in the current study; alpha-amylase and cortisol displayed a symmetrical relationship, supporting an additive model of functioning in the stress response system. Area under the curve with respect to ground was computed to reflect children's total output of cortisol and alpha-amylase while attending child care. Results indicated that children in classrooms with higher emotional support, increased language and interactions, and more available activities and materials demonstrated lower alpha-amylase output. Implications for professional development for early childhood teachers are discussed.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
Alpha-amylase, Child care, HPA axis, Preschool
Child care services.
Stress (Physiology)
Stress (Psychology)
Human biology.

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