Cortisol covariation within parents of young children: Moderation by relationship aggression

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Community Child Health Network (CCHN)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Covariation in diurnal cortisol has been observed in several studies of cohabiting couples. In two such studies (Liu et al., 2013; Saxbe and Repetti, 2010), relationship distress was associated with stronger within-couple correlations, suggesting that couples' physiological linkage with each other may indicate problematic dyadic functioning. Although intimate partner aggression has been associated with dysregulation in women's diurnal cortisol, it has not yet been tested as a moderator of within-couple covariation.This study reports on a diverse sample of 122 parents who sampled salivary cortisol on matched days for two years following the birth of an infant. Partners showed strong positive cortisol covariation. In couples with higher levels of partner-perpetrated aggression reported by women at one year postpartum, both women and men had a flatter diurnal decrease in cortisol and stronger correlations with partners' cortisol sampled at the same timepoints. In other words, relationship aggression was linked both with indices of suboptimal cortisol rhythms in both members of the couples and with stronger within-couple covariation coefficients. These results persisted when relationship satisfaction and demographic covariates were included in the model. During some of the sampling days, some women were pregnant with a subsequent child, but pregnancy did not significantly moderate cortisol levels or within-couple covariation.The findings suggest that couples experiencing relationship aggression have both suboptimal neuroendocrine profiles and stronger covariation. Cortisol covariation is an understudied phenomenon with potential implications for couples' relationship functioning and physical health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-128
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Dec 2015


  • Cortisol
  • Covariation
  • HPA axis
  • Intimate partner aggression
  • Moderation by relationship aggression
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


Dive into the research topics of 'Cortisol covariation within parents of young children: Moderation by relationship aggression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this