In this systematic review on empirical studies of cortisol reactivity to acute stressors in infants, we specifically focus on the role of infant age in the early development of cortisol reactivity to stressors. Our findings indicate that many psychological stressors do not provoke a cortisol reaction, but in response to physical stressors, the infant HPA-axis mostly reacts with a moderate increase in post-stressor cortisol. Furthermore, for physical stressors only, cortisol reactivity effect sizes decrease with infant age, although relatively little is known for infants older than 6 months. These data provide more insight in the role of infant age in the development of cortisol reactivity in response to acute stressors. We discuss the role of caregivers in buffering the cortisol response to both psychological and physical stressors, and recommend extending the current knowledge on infant cortisol reactivity.
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