Mental Health Outcomes in Emerging Adults Exposed to Childhood Maltreatment: The Moderating Role of Stress Reactivity

Melissa J. Hagan, Danielle S. Roubinov, Amy Kraft Mistler, Linda Luecken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Childhood maltreatment is an established risk factor for varying configurations of psychological problems in emerging adulthood. The current study tested associations between childhood maltreatment, cortisol reactivity, and current mental health symptoms in emerging adulthood. Eighty-eight participants (aged 18–22) completed measures of childhood maltreatment and current internalizing and externalizing symptoms and participated in a 10-min conflict role-play task. Salivary cortisol was sampled throughout the task, and a residualized change score between baseline and peak time points was computed to capture reactivity. Results from robust regression analyses indicated that cortisol reactivity moderated the association between childhood maltreatment and mental health symptoms as hypothesized. Childhood maltreatment was related to greater internalizing problems among participants with higher cortisol reactivity, whereas maltreatment was associated with greater externalizing problems among participants who exhibited lower cortisol reactivity. Results suggest that patterns of cortisol reactivity in emerging adulthood may help elucidate mental health outcomes associated with childhood maltreatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-167
Number of pages12
JournalChild Maltreatment
StatePublished - Nov 28 2014


  • childhood maltreatment
  • cortisol
  • emerging adulthood
  • externalizing
  • internalizing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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