Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
Original Article

Can reactivity to stress and family environment explain memory and executive function performance in early and middle childhood?

Reatividade ao estresse e ambiente familiar podem explicar o desempenho em memória e funções executivas na primeira infância e na idade escolar?

Luciane da Rosa Piccolo; Jerusa Fumagalli de Salles; Olga Garcia Falceto; Carmen Luiza Fernandes; Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira

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Abstract Introduction: According to the literature, children's overall reactivity to stress is associated with their socioeconomic status and family environment. In turn, it has been shown that reactivity to stress is associated with cognitive performance. However, few studies have systematically tested these three constructs together. Objective: To investigate the relationship between family environment, salivary cortisol measurements and children's memory and executive function performance. Method: Salivary cortisol levels of 70 children aged 9 or 10 years were measured before and after performing tasks designed to assess memory and executive functions. Questionnaires on socioeconomic issues, family environment and maternal psychopathologies were administered to participants' families during the children's early childhood and again when they reached school age. Results: Data were analyzed by calculating correlations between variables and conducting hierarchical regression. High cortisol levels were associated with poorer working memory and worse performance in tasks involving executive functions, and were also associated with high scores for maternal psychopathology (during early childhood and school age) and family dysfunction. Family environment variables and changes in cortisol levels explain around 20% of the variance in performance of cognitive tasks. Conclusion: Family functioning and maternal psychopathology in early and middle childhood and children's stress levels were associated with children's working memory and executive functioning.


Socioeconomic status, family environment, maternal psychopathology, cortisol, stress, neuropsychological assessment


Resumo Introdução: De acordo com a literatura, o nível socioeconômico e o ambiente familiar estão associados à reatividade ao estresse na criança. Essa reatividade ao estresse, por sua vez, tem sido associada com desempenho cognitivo. No entanto, poucos estudos testaram sistematicamente esses três construtos ao mesmo tempo. Objetivo: Investigar a relação entre ambiente familiar, medidas de cortisol salivar e desempenho em memória e funções executivas das crianças. Método: Os níveis de cortisol salivar de 70 crianças com idade entre 9 e 10 anos foram medidos antes e depois de tarefas de memória e funções executivas. As famílias dos participantes completaram questionários sobre questões socioeconômicas, ambiente familiar e psicopatologia materna durante a primeira infância e a idade escolar da criança. Resultados: Correlações e regressão hierárquica foram realizadas para análise de dados. Níveis de cortisol elevados, bem como alta psicopatologia materna (na primeira infância e em idade escolar) e disfunção familiar foram associados com baixo desempenho em tarefas de funções executivas e memória de trabalho. As variáveis ambiente familiar e alterações nos níveis de cortisol explicam cerca de 20% da variação no desempenho de tarefas cognitivas. Conclusão: O funcionamento familiar e a psicopatologia materna no início e meio da infância, bem como os níveis de estresse das crianças, foram associados com a memória de trabalho e o funcionamento executivo das crianças.


Nível socioeconômico, ambiente familiar, psicopatologia materna, cortisol, estresse, avaliação neuropsicológica


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