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Coping with Social Stress: Implications for Psychopathology in Young Adolescent Girls

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Abstract

This study investigated the impact of social stress on symptoms of psychopathology at the entry into adolescence (111 girls, Mage = 11.84, SD = 0.77). We examined whether peer stress and pubertal timing were associated with internalizing distress and aggression, and whether responses to stress and cortisol reactivity mediated or moderated these associations. Cortisol samples were collected from saliva samples during in-home visits, and the YSR was used to assess psychopathology. Interestingly, pubertal timing demonstrated a trend association with cortisol. Responses to stress mediated the association between social stress and symptoms of internalizing distress and aggression. Specifically, early maturers and girls with higher levels of peer stress exhibited more problematic responses to stress, in turn demonstrating higher levels of internalizing distress and aggression. Significant moderation effects also emerged. For example, early maturers who experienced higher levels of emotional/cognitive numbing in response to peer stress were at greater risk for aggression. Findings identify coping strategies that may be used in evidence-based programming to help girls transition more successfully into adolescence will be discussed.

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Notes

  1. A complete list of tasks is available from the author.

  2. Comparing the sample at the original assessment to the assessment used in this study, there was a loss of 19.5% of the sample of girls. The authors conducted univariate analyses of non-response bias to determine if the remaining sample differed on key demographic factors, pubertal development variables, and outcomes (depression, peer problems, internalizing and externalizing behavior) assessed at baseline. Results showed that participants did not differ on variables used in this study.

  3. In addition to AUCcortisol, the authors conducted preliminary multi-level analyses to examine whether or not patterns of change over time in cortisol were associated with symptoms of psychopathology. Results indicated that pattern of change was not associated with internalizing distress or aggression, suggesting that the multi-level analyses added no additional information to the study beyond what AUCcortisol demonstrated. A complete description of the multi-level analyses is available upon request.

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Acknowledgements

The research reported in this paper was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.

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Correspondence to Lisa M. Sontag.

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Sontag, L.M., Graber, J.A., Brooks-Gunn, J. et al. Coping with Social Stress: Implications for Psychopathology in Young Adolescent Girls. J Abnorm Child Psychol 36, 1159–1174 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-008-9239-3

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