Stress reactivity of six-year-old children involved in challenging tasks

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

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The aim of this study was to investigate whether the preschool activities challenge stress regulative system in children. We used a multi-system approach to evaluate the underlying processes of stress responses, and measured both cortisol and alpha-amylase responses after emotionally and cognitively challenging tasks followed by a recovery session. We anticipated that challenging tasks would increase both cortisol and alpha amylase levels above the baseline. We further expected that recovery sessions would decrease both levels toward the baseline. In addition, we expected the symmetry of alpha-amylase and cortisol reactivity to be related to the ability to orientate toward cognitive demands.
    The study involved a total of 91 children (42 girls, 49 boys). Baseline saliva samples were collected during a single day in October 2008. Reactivity saliva samples were collected during one morning in February 2009. During that day, the children first watched a movie with an experimenter who was unfamiliar to the children. After the movie, the children went to another room where the experimenter conducted all the cognitive tasks. These tasks were followed by a recovery session.
    The baseline cortisol levels indicated an average established function of the HPA - system in the study children. Contrary to our hypothesis, only 19 percent of the study children showed the expected pattern of stress reactivity for both cortisol and alpha-amylase, with an average increase in cortisol and alpha-amylase following the challenging tasks. Unexpectedly, cortisol and alpha-amylase levels increased significantly in the singing recovery session. The surprising finding that singing seemed to be the only stimulating activity during the entire experimental situation raises questions about preschool practices.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEarly Child Development and Care
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)175-189
    Number of pages15
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Fields of Science

    • 516 Educational sciences
    • preschool
    • stress activity
    • cortisol
    • α-amylase
    • challenging tasks
    • recovery
    • 515 Psychology

    Cite this