Children's cortisol patterns and the quality of the early learning environment

Nina Sajaniemi, Eira Suhonen, Elina Kontu, Pekka Rantanen, Harri Lindholm, Ari Hirvonen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The aim of this study was to evaluate the influence of early educational quality on children’s cortisol levels. It was hypothesized that the environmental stressors might load children's immature stress regulative systems thus effecting on their diurnal cortisol levels.
    The study sample consisted of 146 preschool-aged children. Cortisol was measured during one day across five time points. The quality of learning environment was evaluated with the Learning Environment Assessment, focus on indicators of psychological, physiological and social safety.

    The results revealed a typical daily rhythm in cortisol production characterized by higher levels in the morning on waking up followed by a decrease towards the afternoon and evening. In addition, the single early morning cortisol peak and the evening nadir indicated an average established function of the HPA-system. However, some children had cortisol pattern indicating clearly atypical HPA-activity. These children were sensitized to the effects of learning environment. Low quality classroom arrangement and low quality team planning were associated with atypical cortisol patterns and with elevated cortisol levels.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEuropean Early Childhood Education Research Journal
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)45-62
    Number of pages18
    Publication statusPublished - 2011
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Fields of Science

    • 516 Educational sciences

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