Cortisol Rhythm in Preschoolers: Relations with Maternal Depression and Child Temperament

  • Katherine A. Leppert
  • Victoria C. Smith
  • Stephanie M. Merwin
  • Marissa Kushner
  • Lea R. DoughertyEmail author


Evidence supports associations between deviations from the normative daily cortisol rhythm and depression. We examined associations between multiple indices of daily cortisol in 146 preschool-aged children and two well-established risk factors for depression: maternal depression and early child temperament (negative emotionality/NE and positive emotionality/PE). Offspring of mothers with current depression demonstrated lower waking cortisol and lower total post-awakening cortisol. Child PE was negatively associated with waking cortisol. The combination of maternal depression history and high child NE was associated with higher levels of evening cortisol. Findings suggest that an interplay between familial risk for depression and child temperamental vulnerability may be related to neuroendocrine functioning in young children and highlight important methodological considerations in the assessment of children’s basal cortisol activity. It will be critical for future research to map the developmental progression from early disruptions in children’s cortisol rhythm to the emergence of psychopathology.


Cortisol Cortisol awakening response Preschool Depression Temperament Maternal psychopathology 



This research was supported by the University of Maryland (UMD) College of Behavioral and Social Sciences Dean’s Research Initiative Award (LRD) and the UMD Research and Scholars Award (LRD). We are indebted to the families and staff who made this study possible. We are especially grateful to Caitlin Condit for all her efforts in recruiting families and running participants.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Katherine A. Leppert, Victoria C. Smith, Stephanie M. Merwin, Marissa Kushner, and Lea Rose Dougherty declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Experiment Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine A. Leppert
    • 1
  • Victoria C. Smith
    • 1
  • Stephanie M. Merwin
    • 1
  • Marissa Kushner
    • 1
  • Lea R. Dougherty
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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