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Literature Review: The Effect of Childhood Trauma on Cortisol Levels

Project by Polygence alum Tahmid

Literature Review: The Effect of Childhood Trauma on Cortisol Levels

Project's result

Tahmid shared his review paper in the pre-print Research Archive of Rising Scholars.

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Traumatic exposure, specifically at a young age, is a very impactful issue and can affect an individual's adulthood. This is due to the brain still being in development, and chronic stress in an individual who's stress response system hasn't fully developed can be problematic to its natural development. Stress will be regulated by cortisol, which is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. When chronic stress is present, the system may adapt in different ways which can lead to increased or blunted cortisol levels in the long term. Here I explain our current knowledge of how traumatic exposure as a child may impact cortisol levels and how it varies based on the type of trauma. There are many mixed findings due to the stress response system adapting in different ways to different people's traumatic experiences. The results in many cortisol-testing studies may also be affected by experimental factors, the mental state of the subjects during the testing, or based on the method used to measure the cortisol level. As I stated earlier, the two most common patterns are increased and blunted cortisol levels. Some studies even suggest that there is no significant relation between childhood trauma and cortisol levels. When there is a relation, there has also been shown to be variation between the different types of traumas due to some types being more or less detrimental on the stress response system's functioning. In this review, I summarize and analyze many findings in order to determine childhood trauma's effects on cortisol levels based on our current knowledge, and how they may vary based on the type of trauma.



Polygence mentor

PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate


Psychology, Social Science


developmental psychology, child-related policy, social and neurobiological mechanisms





Dougherty Valley High School

Graduation Year


Project review

“The mentor sessions were great and helped me learn a lot about my topic along with research skills. I also like how there was a good format for the site and the project area which made it very simple to guide through.”

About my mentor

“My mentor helped me learn how to be good at researching and selecting articles, along with how to properly read through them.”