Parental caring and loss during childhood and adult cortisol responses to stress

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55 Scopus citations


This study was designed to test the hypothesis that the impact of early parental loss on adult physiological responses to stress is moderated by the level of perceived caring from the surviving parent. University students who lost a parent during childhood were compared to students raised by both biological parents. Salivary cortisol samples were collected immediately before and at 5 and 20 minutes following a stressful speech task. Perceptions of parental caring (Care) during childhood were measured using the Parental Bonding Instrument. Repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance revealed a significant (p=.01) three-way interaction of Loss by Care by Period (baseline, task, recovery) such that participants who lost a parent and perceived low parental caring showed higher cortisol levels following stress relative to other participants. These findings indicate that childhood loss of a parent is associated with long-term neurohormonal consequences only if the quality of the bond with the surviving parent is poor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-851
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000


  • Caretaking
  • Cortisol
  • Parental bond
  • Parental loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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