Abbey Alkon, Sara F. Waters, W. Thomas Boyce, Megan M. Johnson, Kim G. Harley, Brenda Eskenazi
Background: Thirty-seven percent of Hispanic and Latino children under 5 years of age are living in poverty in the United States. Children growing up under conditions of cumulative adversity are at much greater risk for compromised psychosocial adjustment with long-lasting ramifications for mental and physical health. This study assessed whether the relations between adversity early in life and later externalizing behaviors was moderated by children’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) reactivity for immigrant, poor, Mexican- American children. Methods: A cumulative socioeconomic adversity index of children’s exposure to poverty, father’s absence, household crowding, mothers speaking Spanish, and poor housing condition at 6 months and 1, 3.5, and 5 years of age was calculated. At 5 years, ANS profiles during resting and social- and emotion-evoking challenges were calculated as combined parasympathetic and sympathetic difference scores. At 7 years, parents assessed children’s externalizing behavior problems. Results: Multiple regression models (n=220) showed that the relations between cumulative socioeconomic adversity and externalizing behaviors were moderated by children’s ANS profiles of coactivation during a social, not emotion-evoking, challenge, controlling for relevant covariates. Conclusions: Children living in adverse conditions early in life with specific psychobiologic responses to social challenges may be at risk for developing externalizing behavior problems later in life.