Research finds threats to family and self impact the developing physiology of homeless children
New community-University collaborative research found that homeless children with more negative experiences show different profiles of cortisol, a key hormone in physiological regulation, that may help explain health differences among children in poverty. The article by Institute of Child Development doctoral students J.J. Cutuli, Kristen Wiik, and Janette Herbers, and ICD faculty members Megan Gunnar and Ann Masten, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, involved 4 to 7 year olds living with their families in an emergency homeless shelter. Children who had experienced more threats and family disruptions showed higher levels of cortisol during the day and when asked to complete cognitive tasks. However, risks associated with having few physical resources were not related to cortisol. The study underscores the importance of families and psychosocial threats in the development of physiological systems that may contribute to disease.