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Homotypic and heterotypic continuity of internalizing and externalizing symptoms from ages 3 to 12: The moderating role of diurnal cortisol

  • Allison Frost (a1), Ellen Kessel (a1), Sarah Black (a2), Brandon Goldstein (a1), Kristin Bernard (a1) and Daniel N. Klein (a1)...


Psychological symptoms that arise in early childhood can follow a multitude of patterns into adolescence, including homotypic continuity (i.e., similar symptoms over time) and heterotypic continuity (i.e., a shift in symptoms over time). However, we know very little about the factors that distinguish homotypic vs. heterotypic continuity of early internalizing and externalizing symptoms over development. In a separate line of research, diurnal cortisol has been shown to predict later internalizing and externalizing problems. In the current study, we tested whether diurnal cortisol patterns moderated the course of internalizing and externalizing symptoms from preschool to early adolescence. 554 children (54% male) and parents participated in a longitudinal study. Parents reported on their children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms at ages 3 and 12, and children collected diurnal saliva samples at age 9. Results showed that a steeper cortisol decline at age 9 combined with high internalizing or externalizing problems at age 3 predicted higher internalizing problems at age 12. A more blunted cortisol decline combined with early internalizing or externalizing problems predicted higher externalizing problems in early adolescence. These results illustrate the moderating role of stress system functioning in homotypic and heterotypic patterns of psychopathology from preschool to early adolescence.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Allison Frost, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794.


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This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant R01 MH069942 (to D.N.K.) and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship 1315232 (to A.F.).



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