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Describe your research and the big picture problem or puzzle it addresses.

Standardized laboratory paradigms that reliably ‘stress’ young children are few and far between. Effective ‘stressors’ are needed to study the effects of acute stress on children’s emotional and behavioural regulation as well as to index the functioning of children’s biological stress regulatory systems.

What did you do?

Here, we modified a promising ‘matching task’ stressor paradigm by making it even more stressful (i.e. increasing unpredictability, uncontrollability, social-evaluative threat). This included using research assistants unfamiliar to the child who were also unfriendly and told them repeatedly that they were not performing well-enough to win a desired prize. We measured reactivity of children’s stress hormones and autonomic nervous system (sympathetic & parasympathetic) to the matching-task, compared to a control condition.

What did you find?

We found that the modified matching task stressor (vs. control) was effective at inducing reactivity across children’s biological stress systems.

Describe the limitations.

Our sample size was relatively small, so replication in other settings with other groups of children is important.

What are the takeaways?

It is possible to ‘stress’ young children in a first-time laboratory visit. Biological markers of stress-system reactivity were seen across hormonal and cardiac measures. This matching-task paradigm may be helpful for future investigations into the effects of acute stress on subsequent behavior.

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