Child abuse, disruptive behavior disorders, depression, and salivary cortisol levels among institutionalized and community-residing boys in Mongolia.
INTRODUCTION: Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity is related to childhood disruptive behavior disorders and to exposure to abuse and neglect. This study explores the relationship of diurnal salivary cortisol levels with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and caregiver attitudes toward physical punishment among boys in Mongolia. METHODS: Salivary cortisol was collected in the home or institution 4 times daily for 4 days from 46 boys, aged 4-10 years, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Caregivers rated child disruptive behavior symptoms, attitudes toward physical punishment, and community violence exposures. Mixed effects models were used to estimate the association of psychopathology and caregiver attitudes with salivary cortisol levels. RESULTS: Boys meeting criteria for ODD displayed consistently lower diurnal salivary cortisol levels compared to boys without ODD diagnoses. Controlling for ODD diagnosis, boys with depression showed higher cortisol levels throughout the day. No other diagnosis was associated with cortisol levels. Psychiatric diagnosis accounted for 17% of between individual variations in cortisol levels unexplained by the covariates. In a separate model, caregivers' beliefs regarding physical punishment accounted for 11% of between individual differences: boys with caregivers who stated physical punishment was necessary for discipline displayed hypocortisolism. Institutionalization did not associate with cortisol levels. DISCUSSION: Salivary cortisol data from a non-Western naturalistic setting support an association of reduced basal HPA activity with disruptive behavior disorders and caregiver attitudes toward discipline. These findings suggest HPA functioning may be a reflection of or mediate disruptive behavior disorders in children across ethnic and cultural settings.
Kohrt, BA; Hruschka, DJ; Kohrt, HE; Carrion, VG; Waldman, ID; Worthman, CM
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