Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 104–120 | Cite as

Cortisol Stress Response Variability in Early Adolescence: Attachment, Affect and Sex

  • Catherine Ann Cameron
  • Stacey McKay
  • Elizabeth J. Susman
  • Katherine Wynne-Edwards
  • Joan M. Wright
  • Joanne Weinberg
Empirical Research

Abstract

Attachment, affect, and sex shape responsivity to psychosocial stress. Concurrent social contexts influence cortisol secretion, a stress hormone and biological marker of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity. Patterns of attachment, emotion status, and sex were hypothesized to relate to bifurcated, that is, accentuated and attenuated, cortisol reactivity. The theoretical framework for this study posits that multiple individual differences mediate a cortisol stress response. The effects of two psychosocial stress interventions, a modified Trier Social Stress Test for Teens and the Frustration Social Stressor for Adolescents were developed and investigated with early adolescents. Both of these protocols induced a significant stress reaction and evoked predicted bifurcation in cortisol responses; an increase or decrease from baseline to reactivity. In Study I, 120 predominantly middle-class, Euro-Canadian early adolescents with a mean age of 13.43 years were studied. The girls’ attenuated cortisol reactivity to the public performance stressor related significantly to their self-reported lower maternal-attachment and higher trait-anger. In Study II, a community sample of 146 predominantly Euro-Canadian middle-class youth, with an average age of 14.5 years participated. Their self-reports of higher trait-anger and trait-anxiety, and lower parental attachment by both sexes related differentially to accentuated and attenuated cortisol reactivity to the frustration stressor. Thus, attachment, affect, sex, and the stressor contextual factors were associated with the adrenal-cortical responses of these adolescents through complex interactions. Further studies of individual differences in physiological responses to stress are called for in order to clarify the identities of concurrent protective and risk factors in the psychosocial stress and physiological stress responses of early adolescents.

Keywords

Cortisol Adolescence Stress Attachment Affect Sex 

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.University of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada
  3. 3.The Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.University of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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