Diurnal cortisol rhythm and cognitive functioning in toddlers: The Generation R Study

Nathalie S. Saridjan, Jens Henrichs, Jacqueline J. Schenk, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, Albert Hofman, Clemens Kirschbaum, Frank C. Verhulst, Henning Tiemeier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Little is known about the relationship between diurnal cortisol secretion patterns and cognitive function early in life. This population-based study examined whether diurnal cortisol rhythms and cognitive functioning in toddlers are related. Within the Generation R Study, parents of 364 infants (median age: 14.2 months) collected saliva samples at five moments during one day. We assessed the diurnal cortisol rhythm by calculating the area under the curve (AUC), the cortisol awakening response (CAR), and the diurnal slope. Verbal cognitive functioning and fine motor development was determined at age 18 months. Nonverbal cognitive functioning was assessed at age 30 months. A more positive CAR was associated with a lower risk of delay in language comprehension (OR per 1-SD CAR: 0.62, 95%CI: 0.40-0.98, p =.04), a lower risk of nonoptimal fine motor development (OR per 1-SD slope: 0.74, 95%CI: 0.57-0.96, p =.03), and a lower risk of delay in nonverbal cognitive development (OR per 1-SD CAR: 0.58, 95%CI: 0.38-0.90, p =.02). Also, children with flatter slopes had a lower risk of delay in nonverbal cognitive development (OR per 1-SD slope: 0.51, 95%CI: 0.34-0.76, p =.001). Higher AUC levels were associated with a higher risk of delay in language production. These results show that variations in diurnal cortisol rhythms are already associated with variations in cognitive functioning at a young age. Infants with a diurnal cortisol pattern indicative of less stress and more cortisol reactivity, that is, lower AUC levels and a more positive CAR, show a lower risk of delay in cognitive functioning as toddlers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-229
Number of pages20
JournalChild Neuropsychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2014

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