Salivary Bioscience, Human Stress and the Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal Axis



Since validation in the late 1990s measurement of cortisol in saliva has revolutionised the study of human stress. Cortisol secretion is controlled by the brain and in addition to being a principal regulator of circadian rhythms, it is the body’s main stress hormone. The use of salivary measures has spawned an exponential growth in studies exploring individual differences in reactions to stress and consequent impact on health and circadian rhythms. Several key features have facilitated this work: saliva samples can be self-collected both within and outside of laboratory settings; stress-free repeated sampling enables examination of short-term changes in concentration. Researchers have utilised these advantages to measure relationships between stress and health and have explored an astonishingly wide array of research questions that have shone a torch on how the way we feel affects our physical and mental health and well-being. In this chapter, we explore the main approaches to using salivary cortisol in human stress research both within the laboratory and in the domestic setting. We highlight crucial methodological considerations when measuring basal diurnal cortisol patterns as well as stress reactivity. Key findings from this body of work will be summarised as well as exciting potential future directions discussed.


Cortisol HPA axis Stress reactivity Diurnal patterns Health 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychophysiology and Stress Research Group, Psychology, School of Social SciencesUniversity of WestminsterLondonUK

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