Examining attachment, cortisol secretion, and cognitive neurodevelopment in preschoolers and its predictive value for telomere length at age seven

Front Behav Neurosci. 2022 Oct 13;16:954977. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2022.954977. eCollection 2022.


Background: Secure attachment reflects caregiver-child relationship in which the caregiver is responsive when support and comforting are needed by the child. This pattern of bond has an important buffering role in the response to stress by the reduction of the negative experience and its associated physiological response. Disruption of the physiological stress system is thought to be a central mechanism by which early care impacts children. Early life stress causes cellular and molecular changes in brain regions associated with cognitive functions that are fundamental for early learning.

Methods: The association between attachment, cortisol response before and after the Strange Situation Experiment, and neurodevelopment was examined in a sample of 107 preschoolers at age three. Also, the predictive effect of cortisol reactivity and attachment on telomere length at age seven was investigated in a followed-up sample of 77 children.

Results: Children with insecure attachment had higher cortisol secretion and poorer neurodevelopmental skills at age three. A significant cortisol change was observed across the experiment with non-significant interaction with attachment. The attachment and neurodevelopment association was not mediated by cortisol secretion. Preschoolers' attachment and cortisol did not associate nor interacted to predict telomere length at age seven.

Conclusion: These findings add evidence to the detrimental effects of insecure attachment as an aggravator of the physiological response to stress and poorer neurodevelopment during the preschool period. Although attachment and cortisol were not predictive of telomere length, intervention policies that promote secure attachment are more likely to positively echo on several health domains.

Keywords: attachment; cortisol; neurodevelopment; preschooler; telomere length.