Adrenocortical Activity and Behavioral Distress in Human Newborns

Developmental Psychobiology, Volume 21, Issue 4: Pages 297-310, May 1988.

MEGAN R. GUNNAR, JOAN CONNORS, JILL ISENSEE, LEE WALL, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The association between behavioral distress and adrenocortical activity was examined in two experiments with human newborns. In Experiment 1, behavioral and adrenocortical response to 4 events (circumcision, blood sampling, weighing and measuring, and discharge examination) were compared using a between-subject design. All 4 events elicited fussing and crying and elevations in plasma cortisol, however, differences in behavioral distress among conditions did not reliably predict differences in plasma cortisol. In Experiment 2, non-nutritive sucking was used to effectively reduce behavioral distress, but was not associated with a reduction in adrenocortical response to stimulation. Finally, using data from both experiments, correlations were computed between behavioral distress and cortisol. Both positive and negative associations were found as a function of the type of stressor and the biomedical status of the newborn.


Reprint requests should be sent to Megan R. Gunnar, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, MN 55455, U.S.A.

Received for publication 23 February 1987
Revised for publication 1 July 1987
Accepted at Wiley 29 December 1987


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