Violence exposure and social deprivation is associated with cortisol reactivity in urban adolescents

The present study tested how two different dimensions of childhood adversity, violence exposure and social deprivation, were associated with the cortisol response to the Socially Evaluated Cold-Pressor task in a sample of 222 adolescents (nā€‰=ā€‰117 girls, nā€‰=ā€‰167 African American). Participants were part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a probability sample of births in large US cities (>200,000) between 1998 and 2000. Our subsample includes births in three cities: Detroit, Toledo, and Chicago. The study design called for an oversampling of births to unmarried parents (3:1) which led to a large number of minority and economically disadvantaged adolescents. When children were ages 3, 5, and 9, mothers reported on exposures to violence and social deprivation that occurred in the past year. Exposures from the three waves were averaged to reflect violence exposure and social deprivation during childhood. Greater levels of violence exposure from ages 3 to 9 were associated with a blunted cortisol response to stress at age 15, even after controlling for social deprivation and other factors known to influence cortisol reactivity. Social deprivation from ages 3 to 9 was not associated with the cortisol response to stress; though in an exploratory analysis, social deprivation moderated the association between violence exposure and cortisol peak activation. In line with the Dimensional Model of Adversity and Psychopathology, these findings suggest that experiences of violence, but not social deprivation, during childhood may contribute to cortisol blunting that has been previously reported in samples with high levels of social deprivation. Findings from the present longitudinal study on a relatively large sample of under-represented minority youth provide insight into the ways two different dimensions of childhood adversity impact the cortisol response to stress.