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Child temperament and teacher relationship interactively predict cortisol expression: The prism of classroom climate

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 November 2017

Danielle S. Roubinov
University of California, San Francisco
Melissa J. Hagan
University of California, San Francisco San Francisco State University
W. Thomas Boyce
University of California, San Francisco
Marilyn J. Essex
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Nicole R. Bush
University of California, San Francisco


Entry into kindergarten is a developmental milestone that children may differentially experience as stressful, with implications for variability in neurobiological functioning. Guided by the goodness-of-fit framework, this study tested the hypothesis that kindergarten children's (N = 338) daily cortisol would be affected by the “match” or “mismatch” between children's temperament and qualities of the classroom relational context. The robustness of these associations was also explored among a separate sample of children in third grade (N = 165). Results among kindergarten children showed negative affectivity and overcontrolled temperament were positively related to cortisol expression within classrooms characterized by lower levels of teacher motivational support, but there was no relation between temperament and cortisol when motivational support was higher. Among third-grade children, negative affectivity was marginally positively related to cortisol at lower levels of teacher–child closeness and unrelated at higher levels of teacher–child closeness. Findings suggest children's cortisol expression depends on the extent to which specific temperamental characteristics “fit” within the relational and contextual qualities of the classroom environment, particularly as children navigate the new roles and relationships that emerge during the transition to formal schooling. Developmentally informed neurobiological research in classrooms may contribute to tailored programmatic efforts to support children's school adjustment.

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This study was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grants R01 MH62320 to (W.T.B.) and R01 MH44340 and P50 MH052354 to (M.J.E.), the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Psychopathology and Development (to W.T.B. and M.J.E.), and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (to W.T.B.).


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Child temperament and teacher relationship interactively predict cortisol expression: The prism of classroom climate
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