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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology


Sarah Enos Watamura

Dr. Watamura is interested in taking a new graduate student for Fall 2021. She will review applications from students applying to either Affective/Social/Cognitive, Clinical, or Developmental Psychology programs.

Areas of expertise/Research interests

  • stress and health in young children
  • parenting
  • child care
  • protective factors in recent immigrants
  • physical and psychological health in children

Current research and projects

The Child Health & Development Lab has eight ongoing projects, under the direction of Sarah Enos Watamura or one of her current or former graduate students (Lisa Badanes, Irena Pikovsky, Marina Mendoza, Eliana Hurwich-Weiss, and Lisa McFadyen-Ketchum).

See the Child Health & Development Lab site for more details.

Projects examine:

  1. basal cortisol patterning development in children 2.5 to 7 years of age.
  2. stress and buffering in recent Mexican immigrant families.
  3. the interaction of genetic and environmental factors when predicting early stress reactivity and subsequent development.
  4. risk factors and outcomes associated with very low and flat cortisol patterning.
  5. the buffering effects of child care characteristics including relationships between children and teachers.
  6. relations between sleep/sleep problems and cortisol and behavior problems.
  7. whether acute exercise provides cognitive benefits in preschoolers as it does with older children and adults.
  8. whether a parenting support program can prevent "toxic" stress in infants and toddlers.

Professional work synopsis

In my lab, we are interested in how young children manage normative stress and challenge, and the consequences stress and challenge pose for their health, and developing cognitive and social-emotional systems.

Although we think of childhood as a relatively stress-free time of life, young children face challenges in every developmental domain simultaneously, and individual differences as well as contextual effects may be important for how they handle these challenges—behaviorally and physiologically.

My research has three main areas:

  1. I contribute work on the normative development of systems for managing stress and challenge, in particular the development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis through examining the development of cortisol patterning across the first few years of life.
    Cortisol is the primary hormonal product of the HPA axis and has many important functions in the body, including helping to manage sustained challenge. I examine the development of cortisol patterning in relation to factors like sleep-wake behavior and temperament.
  2. Second, I examine cortisol patterning in the context of full-day child care, which has been documented to produce low-level patterning differences in relation to home patterns. This context, therefore, presents an opportunity to examine how children manage normative challenge, and to explore which factors are associated with challenge and which factors may be protective.
  3. I examine the consequences of cortisol reactivity for health, including concurrent antibody production, internalizing disorders and markers of allostatic load. Recent work focuses specifically on the stressors and buffers that may be unique to children of recent immigrants, contributors, and consequences of "toxic stress" conditions in infants and toddlers, and contributors and consequences of hypocortisolism in young children.


  • PhD, Cornell University, 2005
  • MA, Cornell University, 2002
  • BS, University of Minnesota, 1998

Selected Publications

  • Badanes, L. S., Dmitrieva, J., & Watamura, S. E. (2012). "Understanding cortisol reactivity across the day at childcare: The potential buffering role of secure attachment to teacher." Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(1), 156-165.
  • Gribbin, C., Watamura, S. E., Cairns, A., Harsh, J. R., & LeBourgeois, M. K (2011). "The cortisol awakening response in 2-4 year-old children: Effects of acute nighttime sleep restriction, wake time and daytime napping." Developmental Psychobiology. doi: 10.1002/dev.20599
  • Badanes, L. S.+*, Watamura, S. E.*, & Hankin, B. L. (2011). "Hypocortisolism as a potential marker of allostatic load in children: Associations with family risk and internalizing disorders." Development & Psychopathology, 23, 881-896. *First and second authors contributed equally.
  • Watamura, S. E., Phillips, D., Morrissey, T., McCartney, K., & Bub, K. (2011). "Double Jeopardy: Environmental interactions and cumulative effects predict poorer social emotional outcomes for children in the NICHD study of early child care and youth development." Child Development, Special Issue on Raising Healthy Children.
  • Hankin, B. L., Badanes, L. S., Abuela, Watamura, S. E. (2010). "Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis dysregulation in dysphoric children and adolescents: Cortisol reactivity to psychosocial stress from preschool through middle adolescence." Biological Psychiatry.
  • Watamura, S. E., Coe, C. L., Laudenslager, M. L., Robertson, S. S. (2010) "Child care setting affects salivary cortisol and antibody secretion in young children." Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35(8), 1156-1166.
  • Watamura, S. E., Kryzer, E. M., & Robertson, S.S. (2009). "Cortisol patterns at home and child care: Afternoon differences and evening recovery in children attending very high quality full-day center-based child care." Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(4) 475-485.
  • Friedman, A. H., Watamura, S. E., & Robertson, S. S. (2005). "Movement-Attention Coupling in Infancy and Attention Problems in Childhood." Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 47, 660-665.
  • Watamura, S. E., Donzella, B., Kertes, D., & Gunnar, M. R. (2004). "Developmental changes in baseline cortisol activity in early childhood: Relations with napping and effortful control." Developmental Psychobiology, 45(3), 125-133.
  • Watamura, S. E., Donzella, B., Alwin, J., & Gunnar, M. R.(2003). "Morning to afternoon increases in cortisol concentrations for infants and toddlers at child care: Age differences and behavioral correlates." Child Development, 74(4), 1006-1020.
  • Watamura, S. E., Sebanc, A. M., & Gunnar, M. R. (2002). "Rising cortisol at childcare: Relations with nap, rest and temperament." Developmental Psychobiology, 40, 33-42.
  • Dettling, A. C., Parker, S. W., Lane, S., Sebanc, A., & Gunnar, M. R. (2000). "Quality of care and temperament determine changes in cortisol concentrations over the day for young children in childcare." Psychoneuroendocrinology, 25, 819-836.