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Adolescent internalizing symptoms and negative life events: The sensitizing effects of earlier life stress and cortisol

  • Paula L. Ruttle (a1), Jeffrey M. Armstrong (a1), Marjorie H. Klein (a1) and Marilyn J. Essex (a1)


Although adolescence is marked by increased negative life events and internalizing problems, few studies investigate this association as an ongoing longitudinal process. Moreover, while there are considerable individual differences in the degree to which these phenomena are linked, little is known about the origins of these differences. The present study examines early life stress (ELS) exposure and early-adolescent longitudinal afternoon cortisol level as predictors of the covariation between internalizing symptoms and negative life events across high school. ELS was assessed by maternal report during infancy, and the measure of cortisol was derived from assessments at ages 11, 13, and 15 years. Life events and internalizing symptoms were assessed at ages 15, 17, and 18 years. A two-level hierarchical linear model revealed that ELS and cortisol were independent predictors of the covariation of internalizing symptoms and negative life events. Compared to those with lower levels of ELS, ELS-exposed adolescents displayed tighter covariation between internalizing symptoms and negative life events. Adolescents with lower longitudinal afternoon cortisol displayed tighter covariation between negative life events and internalizing symptoms, while those with higher cortisol demonstrated weaker covariation, partially due to increased levels of internalizing symptoms when faced with fewer negative life events.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprints requests to: Paula L. Ruttle, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 6001 Research Park Boulevard, Madison, WI 53719-1176; E-mail:


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Adolescent internalizing symptoms and negative life events: The sensitizing effects of earlier life stress and cortisol

  • Paula L. Ruttle (a1), Jeffrey M. Armstrong (a1), Marjorie H. Klein (a1) and Marilyn J. Essex (a1)


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