Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 225–234 | Cite as

The Interactive Effects of Stressful Family Life Events and Cortisol Reactivity on Adolescent Externalizing and Internalizing Behaviors

  • Christine M. SteegerEmail author
  • Emily C. Cook
  • Christian M. Connell
Original Article


This study investigated the associations between stressful family life events and adolescent externalizing and internalizing behaviors, and the interactive effects of family life events and cortisol reactivity on problem behaviors. In a sample of 100 mothers and their adolescents (M age = 15.09; SD age = .98; 68 % girls), adolescent cortisol reactivity was measured in response to a mother–adolescent conflict interaction task designed to elicit a stress response. Mothers reported on measures of family life events and adolescent problem behaviors. Results indicated that a heightened adolescent cortisol response moderated the relations between stressful family life events and both externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Results support context-dependent theoretical models, suggesting that for adolescents with higher cortisol reactivity (compared to those with lower cortisol reactivity), higher levels of stressful family life events were associated with greater problem behaviors, whereas lower levels of stressful family life events were related to fewer problem behaviors.


Stressful family life events Externalizing behaviors Internalizing behaviors Cortisol reactivity 



Research reported in this publication was supported by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Network for Biomedical Research Excellence awarded to Emily Cook from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant number P20GM103430. Manuscript preparation was supported in part by an NIH/NIDA T32 Research Training Program in Substance Abuse Prevention Research (Yale University School of Medicine), and NIDA grant numbers A024411-07, 2R01DA023089-06, and 2R01DA023089-06A1 (University of Washington).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Division of Prevention and Community ResearchYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyRhode Island CollegeProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Social Development Research Group, School of Social WorkUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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