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The relationship between the cortisol awakening response and cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stressor

Dienes, Kimberly; Gartland, Nicola; Ferguson, Eamonn

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Authors

Kimberly Dienes

Nicola Gartland

EAMONN FERGUSON eamonn.ferguson@nottingham.ac.uk
Professor of Health Psychology



Abstract

Objectives

The cortisol awakening response (CAR) and cortisol reactivity to an acute laboratory stressor both involve steep increases in cortisol secretion and are associated with preparing the body to deal with stressors ahead. Alterations in both have been linked to negative clinical and health outcomes. However, these two aspects of our biological stress response have rarely been directly compared, and the extant research focuses on state, rather than trait CAR. Given the similar roles of the CAR and cortisol reactivity, and their relationships to psychopathology, it is important to understand whether trait CAR and cortisol reactivity to acute stressors are related and whether a blunted CAR may be predictive of blunted cortisol reactivity across an acute laboratory stress task.

Design

Cross‐sectional. Participants completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) the week after daily assessment of the CAR.

Methods

Salivary cortisol secretion across the TSST was compared to the CAR, sampled across five weekdays at waking (S1) and 30 min past waking, for 54 female participants.
Results

A smaller CAR, lower peak cortisol, and blunted CAR increase were all significantly related to a steep rise and flattened slope of recovery in cortisol secretion following the TSST. Additionally, lower S1 was predictive of a blunted rise in cortisol secretion from baseline to immediately post‐task.

Conclusion

There was a significant relationship between trait CAR and cortisol secretion across the TSST. The results provided mixed support for hypotheses. A blunted CAR was associated with impaired recovery in cortisol secretion following the TSST, but, surprisingly, a rapid rise in cortisol peaking immediately following the stress task.

Citation

Dienes, K., Gartland, N., & Ferguson, E. (2019). The relationship between the cortisol awakening response and cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stressor. British Journal of Health Psychology, 24(2), 265-281. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12352

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 6, 2018
Online Publication Date Jan 2, 2019
Publication Date 2019-05
Deposit Date Feb 13, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 3, 2020
Journal British Journal of Health Psychology
Print ISSN 1359-107X
Electronic ISSN 2044-8287
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 2
Pages 265-281
DOI https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12352
Keywords hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, stress, cortisol, cortisol awakening response, Trier Social Stress Test, cortisol reactivity
Public URL https://nottingham-repository.worktribe.com/output/1544810
Publisher URL https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bjhp.12352
Additional Information This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Dienes, K. , Gartland, N. and Ferguson, E. (2019), The relationship between the cortisol awakening response and cortisol reactivity to a laboratory stressor. Br J Health Psychol., which has been published in final form at https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12352. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

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