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Profiles of diurnal cortisol and DHEA regulation among children: Associations with maltreatment experiences, symptomatology, and positive adaptation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 May 2022

Elizabeth D. Handley*
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Fred A. Rogosch
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Erinn B. Duprey
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA Children’s Institute, Rochester, NY, USA
Justin Russotti
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA
Dante Cicchetti
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Corresponding author: Elizabeth D. Handley, email:


Person-centered methods represent an important advance in the simultaneous examination of multiple indicators of neuroendocrine functioning and may facilitate a more nuanced understanding of the impact of child maltreatment on hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis dysregulation. The aims of the present study were threefold: (a) identify naturally occurring patterns of diurnal cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) regulation among a sample of N = 1,258 children with and without histories of maltreatment, (b) investigate which neuroendocrine profiles characterize children with exposure to maltreatment, and (c) examine which profiles are related to adaptive outcomes and symptomatology among children. Cortisol and DHEA were sampled three times per day (9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 4 p.m.) across 5 and 2 days, respectively. Four profiles of cortisol and DHEA regulation were identified. Among females, a pattern marked by high cortisol and low DHEA was associated with more pervasive maltreatment experiences. Furthermore, we found evidence of adaptive interpersonal resilience such that children with maltreatment exposure who evidenced this pattern of high cortisol and low DHEA were viewed as more likeable than maltreated children with other neuroendocrine patterns. Finally, results pointed to higher levels of internalizing symptoms among children who displayed a profile marked by average cortisol and high DHEA.

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© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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