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. 2018 Mar;69(1-2):50-61.
doi: 10.1016/j.jchb.2018.03.005. Epub 2018 Mar 27.

Social Group Dynamics Predict Stress Variability Among Children in a New Zealand Classroom

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Social Group Dynamics Predict Stress Variability Among Children in a New Zealand Classroom

Julie Spray et al. Homo. .

Abstract

Previous research proposes stress as a mechanism for linking social environments and biological bodies. In particular, non-human primate studies investigate relationships between cortisol as a measure of stress response and social hierarchies. Because human social structures often include hierarchies of dominance and social status, humans may exhibit similar patterns. Studies of non-human primates, however, have not reached consistent conclusions with respect to relationships between social position and levels of cortisol. While human studies report associations between cortisol and various aspects of social environments, studies that consider social status as a predictor of stress response also report mixed results. Others have argued that perceptions of social status may have different implications for stress response depending upon social context. We propose here that characteristics of children's social networks may be a better predictor of central tendencies and variability of stress response than their perceptions of social status. This is evaluated among 24 children from 9.4 to 11.3 years of age in one upper middle-class New Zealand primary school classroom, assessed through observation within the classroom, self-reports during semi-structured interviews and 221 serial saliva samples provided daily over 10 consecutive school days. A synthetic assessment of the children's networks and peer-relationships was developed prior to saliva-cortisol analysis. We found that greater stability of peer-relationships within groups significantly predicts lower within-group variation in mid-morning cortisol over the two-week period, but not overall within-group differences in mean cortisol.

Keywords: Cortisol; Predictability; Social networks; Social status; Stability; Stress response.

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