From Preschool to Kindergarten: The Effect of Fearfulness and Cortisol on Children's Development of Social Anxiety
Gilsenan, Kaitlyn Christine
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Dr. Kristin Ann Buss, Thesis Supervisor Dr. Susan Mohammed, Honors Advisor
fearful temperament fearfulness cortisol stress reactivity social anxiety
This study examined the effects of fearfulness and stress reactivity on the development of social anxiety symptoms in young children. At age 2, children participated in six different putatively fear-evoking episodes, which were used to assess their fearful temperament and stress reactivity. Saliva samples were collected before and after this visit to test cortisol for the measure of stress reactivity. The current study evaluated if profiles of behavioral and cortisol reactivity predicted the development of social anxiety. It was expected that a profile of high behavioral and cortisol reactivity across contexts would predict the highest levels of social anxiety from preschool to kindergarten. Using fearful composite scores and cortisol levels, three groups of children were identified: (1) low fear, low cortisol reactivity, (2) high fear with high threat, moderate cortisol reactivity, and (3) consistent high fear, high cortisol reactivity. We found that cortisol significantly increased the prediction of the development of social anxiety in children who were fearful across all episodes, even the non-fearful social episodes such as clown and puppet show.