Individual differences in biological stress responses moderate the contribution of early peer victimization to subsequent depressive symptoms

Karen D. Rudolph, Wendy Troop-Gordon, Douglas A. Granger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Rationale: Some children who are exposed to early peer victimization become depressed, whereas others are resilient. Understanding individual differences in responses to early adversity, such as victimization, is critical for developing both comprehensive theoretical models and effective interventions. Objectives: This study examined whether individual differences in biological stress responses (i.e., activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and autonomic nervous system) moderated the contribution of peer victimization to depressive symptoms across a 1-year period. Methods: Children (N=132; M age=9.46 years, SD=0.33) completed measures of peer victimization and depressive symptoms, and rated their ruminative responses (i.e., persistent thoughts about negative task-related emotion and experiences) to a laboratory-based social challenge task involving two conflict-of-interests situations with an unfamiliar peer. Children's saliva was collected prior to, and following, participation in the task, and was later assayed for cortisol and alpha amylase [sAA]. Results: Victimization interacted with levels of cortisol measured in anticipation of the task to predict task-related rumination and depressive symptoms 1 year later, adjusting for initial symptoms. Specifically, victimization served as a risk factor for rumination and depressive symptoms in children with heightened but not dampened anticipatory cortisol; yet, heightened anticipatory cortisol was protective against rumination and depressive symptoms in low-victimized children. Victimization also predicted subsequent depressive symptoms in girls with high sAA reactivity across the task. Conclusions: This study advances contemporary theory and research by implicating individual variation in biological stress responses as one determinant of sensitivity to the mental health effects of early adversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-219
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomic
  • Biological sensitivity to context
  • Cortisol
  • Depression
  • HPA axis
  • Peer victimization
  • sAA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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