Social behavior and cortisol reactivity in children with fragile X syndrome

David R Hessl, Bronwyn Glaser, Jennifer Dyer-Friedman, Allan L. Reiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine the association between limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (L-HPA) axis reactivity and social behavior in children with fragile X syndrome (FXS). Method: Salivary cortisol changes and concurrent anxiety-related behaviors consistent with the behavioral phenotype of FXS were measured in 90 children with the fragile X full mutation and their 90 unaffected siblings during a social challenge task in the home. Results: Boys and girls with FXS demonstrated more gaze-aversion, task avoidance, behavioral signs of distress, and poorer vocal quality than the unaffected siblings. Multiple regression analyses showed that after accounting for effects of IQ, gender, age, quality of the home environment, and basal cortisol level, cortisol reactivity to the task was significantly associated with social gaze in children with FXS. The most gaze-aversive children with FXS had cortisol reductions, whereas those with more eye contact demonstrated the most cortisol reactivity. Unaffected siblings demonstrated an opposite pattern in which less eye contact was associated with increased cortisol reactivity. Conclusions: Results of the study suggest a unique relation between abnormal gaze behavior and L-HPA mediated stress reactivity in FXS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)602-610
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Cortisol
  • FMR1 gene
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Gaze
  • Social phobia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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