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Effects of a prevention program for divorced families on youth cortisol reactivity 15 years later

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Objective: We examined whether an empirically based, randomised controlled trial of a preventive intervention for divorced mothers and children had a long-term impact on offspring cortisol regulation.

Design: Divorced mothers and children (age 9–12) were randomly assigned to a literature control condition or the 11-week New Beginnings Program, a family-focused group preventive intervention for mothers and children in newly divorced families.

Main Outcome Measures: Fifteen years after the trial, offspring salivary cortisol (n = 161) was measured before and after a social stress task.

Results: Multilevel mixed models were used to predict cortisol from internalizing symptoms, externalizing symptoms, group assignment and potential moderators of intervention effects. Across the sample, higher externalizing symptoms were associated with lower cortisol reactivity. There was a significant group-by-age interaction such that older offspring in the control group had higher reactivity relative to the intervention group, and younger offspring in the control group exhibited a decline across the task relative to younger offspring in the intervention group.

Conclusions: Preventive interventions for youth from divorced families may have a long-term impact on cortisol reactivity to stress. Results highlight the importance of examining moderators of program effects.
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Keywords: cortisol; externalizing; intervention; parental divorce

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Publication date: July 3, 2015

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