Negative Cognitive Style and Cortisol Reactivity to a Laboratory Stressor: a Preliminary Study

  • Ivan VargasEmail author
  • Gerald J. Haeffel
  • Ross Jacobucci
  • Julia T. Boyle
  • Stefanie E. Mayer
  • Nestor L. Lopez-Duran


According to the hopelessness theory of depression, some individuals have a cognitive vulnerability (i.e., negative cognitive style) that interacts with stressful life events to produce depression. A negative cognitive style is associated with a maladaptive cognitive response to stress (i.e., increased negative attributions); however, no study has assessed whether this cognitive vulnerability is also associated with a maladaptive endocrine (e.g., cortisol) response to stress. If shown to be related, individual differences in cognitive style may potentially explain why the literature on the association between cortisol stress reactivity and depression is mixed, as cortisol responses to stress may vary as a function of attributional style. The aim of the present study was to provide a preliminary test of whether cognitive vulnerability was related to cortisol reactivity to an acute laboratory stressor among a sample of young adults (n = 20; Mage = 23.1 years; 10 females). Negative cognitive style and depressive symptoms were assessed via the Cognitive Style Questionnaire and the Patient Health Questionnaire, respectively. All participants also completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Salivary cortisol was collected before, during, and after the TSST. Results showed a significant association between negative cognitive style and cortisol stress reactivity, such that a greater negative cognitive style was related to a larger cortisol response to the TSST. Post hoc analyses revealed that this association was moderated by gender (i.e., effect observed in males only). Cortisol responses to the TSST, in general, were lower among females, but this relationship was not moderated by cognitive style. These findings may be related to underlying gender differences in stress vulnerability, which may have clinical implications for understanding the interactive effect of cognitive and neuroendocrine processes on vulnerability and resiliency to depression.


Cognitive style Stress Depression Cortisol HPA axis 



The authors would like to thank the Michigan Psychoneuroendocrinology Affective Laboratory staff, particularly Andrew Garton, Rebecca Mulder, Tonia Ballantyne, Lara Fawaz, Allie Hammond, and Rachel Cannon who assisted in data collection.

Funding Information

The funding for this research was provided by the University of Michigan, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The Institutional Review Board at the University of Michigan approved the study, and participants signed a written informed consent.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


The funding source had no role in the study design, data collection, analyses, or manuscript preparation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological ScienceUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  2. 2.Behavioral Sleep Medicine ProgramDepartment of Psychiatry, University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyPhiladelphia College of Osteopathic MedicinePhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Center for Health & Community, Department of PsychiatryUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA
  6. 6.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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