Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UC San Francisco Previously Published Works bannerUCSF

Autonomic reactivity and psychopathology in middle childhood.

  • Author(s): Boyce, WT
  • Quas, J
  • Alkon, A
  • Smider, NA
  • Essex, MJ
  • Kupfer, DJ
  • MacArthur Assessment Battery Working Group of the MacArthur Foundation Research Netwrok on Psychopathology and Development
  • et al.


Better indicators are needed for identifying children with early signs of developmental psychopathology.


To identify measures of autonomic nervous system reactivity that discriminate children with internalising and externalising behavioural symptoms.


A cross-sectional study of 122 children aged 6--7 years examined sympathetic and parasympathetic reactivity to standardised field-laboratory stressors as predictors of parent- and teacher-reported mental health symptoms.


Measures of autonomic reactivity discriminated between children with internalising behaviour problems, externalising behaviour problems and neither. Internalisers showed high reactivity relative to low-symptom children, principally in the parasympathetic branch, while externalisers showed low reactivity, in both autonomic branches.


School-age children with mental health symptoms showed a pattern of autonomic dimorphism in their reactivity to standardised challenges. This observation may be of use in early identification of children with presyndromal psychopathology.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
Current View