Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Related to Community Violence and Children’s Diurnal Cortisol Response in an Urban Community-Dwelling Sample

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description


While community violence has been linked to psychological morbidity in urban youth, data on the physiological correlates of violence and associated posttraumatic stress symptoms are sparse. We examined the influence of child posttraumatic stress symptoms reported in relationship to community violence exposure on diurnal salivary cortisol response in a population based sample of 28 girls and 15 boys ages 7–13, 54% self-identified as white and 46% as Hispanic.


Mothers’ reported on the child’s exposure to community violence using the Survey of Children’s Exposure to Community Violence and completed the Checklist of Children’s Distress Symptoms (CCDS) which captures factors related to posttraumatic stress; children who were eight years of age or greater reported on their own community violence exposure. Saliva samples were obtained from the children four times a day (after awakening, lunch, dinner and bedtime) over three days. Mixed models were used to assess the influence of posttraumatic stress symptoms on cortisol expression, examined as diurnal slope and area under the curve (AUC), calculated across the day, adjusting for socio-demographics.


In adjusted analyses, higher scores on total traumatic stress symptoms (CCDS) were associated with both greater cortisol AUC and with a flatter cortisol waking to bedtime rhythm. The associations were primarily attributable to differences on the intrusion, arousal and avoidance CCDS subscales.


Posttraumatic stress symptomatology reported in response to community violence exposure was associated with diurnal cortisol disruption in these community-dwelling urban children.


Published In

International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 17, 1, 43-50.