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Biological Stress Regulation in Female Adolescents: A Key Role for Confiding

Abstract

Attachment behaviors play a critical role in regulating emotion within the context of close relationships, and attachment theory is currently used to inform evidence-based practice in the areas of adolescent health and social care. This study investigated the association between female adolescents’ interview-based attachment behaviors and two markers of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity: cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Unlike the classic stress hormone cortisol, there is very limited investigation of DHEA—a quintessential developmental hormone—in relation to attachment, especially in adolescents. Fifty-five healthy females mean age 14.36 (±2.41) years participated in the attachment style interview. A smaller cortisol awakening response was related to anxious attachment attitudes, including more fear of rejection, whereas greater morning basal DHEA secretion was only predicted by lower levels of reported confiding in one’s mother. These attachment–hormone relationships may be developmental markers in females, as they were independent of menarche status. These findings highlight that the normative shifts occurring in attachment to caregivers around adolescence are reflected in adolescents’ biological stress regulation. We discuss how studying these shifts can be informed by evolutionary–developmental theory.

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The manuscript does not contain clinical studies or patient data. There is no conflict of interest.

Author contributions

AO conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; AC participated in the design and interpretation of the data and helped to draft the manuscript; CL and FH participated in the design and helped to draft the manuscript. DS helped to redraft the manuscript after initial review. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Oskis, A., Clow, A., Loveday, C. et al. Biological Stress Regulation in Female Adolescents: A Key Role for Confiding. J Youth Adolescence 44, 1066–1077 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0182-z

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Keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Attachment
  • CAR
  • Cortisol awakening response
  • DHEA
  • HPA axis