Overestimating Self-Blame for Stressful Life Events and Adolescents’ Latent Trait Cortisol: The Moderating Role of Parental Warmth

  • Catherine B. StroudEmail author
  • Frances R. Chen
  • Blair E. Curzi
  • Douglas A. Granger
  • Leah D. Doane
Empirical Research


Cognitive interpretations of stressful events impact their implications for physiological stress processes. However, whether such interpretations are related to trait cortisol—an indicator of individual differences in stress physiology—is unknown. In 112 early adolescent girls (M age = 12.39 years), this study examined the association between self-blame estimates for past year events and latent trait cortisol, and whether maternal warmth moderated effects. Overestimating self-blame (versus objective indices) for independent (uncontrollable) events was associated with lower latent trait cortisol, and maternal warmth moderated the effect of self-blame estimates on latent trait cortisol for each dependent (at least partially controllable) and interpersonal events. Implications for understanding the impact of cognitive and interpersonal factors on trait cortisol during early adolescence are discussed.


Cognitive vulnerability Stressful life events Trait cortisol Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis Maternal warmth 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the families who participated in this study, all of the research staff who assisted with this study, and Andrea Gierens at Biochemisches Labor at the University of Trier for technical assistance with the salivary assays.

Authors’ Contributions

C.B.S. and F.R.C. contributed to the development of the research questions for this manuscript. C.B.S. and B.E.C. contributed to data acquisition. B.E.C. contributed to data coding. L.D.D. and F.R.C. contributed to data processing and preparation for analysis. F.R.C. conducted the statistical analysis. C.B.S. and F.R.C. contributed to drafting this manuscript, and all authors contributed feedback used in drafting and revising the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research was supported by institutional funds from Williams College (C.B.S., Principal Investigator). L.D.D. was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01HD079520 and a William T. Grant Foundation Early Scholar Award.

Data Sharing Declaration

The datasets generated and analyzed for the current study are not publicly available, but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

In the interest of full disclosure, D.A.G. is founder and Chief Scientific and Strategy Advisor of Salimetrics LLC (State College, PA) and SalivaBio LLC (Baltimore, MD). The other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Williams College Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWilliams CollegeWilliamstownUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminal Justice and CriminologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience ResearchUniversity of California at IrvineIrvineUSA
  4. 4.The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Bloomberg School of Public Health, and School of MedicineThe Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  5. 5.Salivary Bioscience Laboratory and Department of PsychologyUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  6. 6.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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