The effects of an anticipated challenge on diurnal activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis

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Abstract

Background: The measurement of cortisol in saliva provides a non-invasive index of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Levels of cortisol are up-regulated in response to acutely stressful stimuli, particularly stressors involving social evaluation. In addition, the secretion of cortisol typically follows a diurnal profile characterised by a peak in the period following awakening (cortisol awakening response) and a gradual decline throughout the day. It has recently been posited that this awakening increase may serve to prepare for forthcoming demands of the day. The current study assessed the impact of an anticipated laboratory stressor on the typical diurnal pattern of HPA activation. Methods: A sample of 23 healthy young adults provided salivary cortisol samples at four time points (awakening, 30 minute post awakening, 1200h and 2200h) on two consecutive days. On the second day, participants attended the laboratory and undertook an acute socially evaluative stressor following provision of their 1200h saliva sample. Heart rate, blood pressure and mood were recorded immediately before and after the stressor and at 10 and 20 minutes post stressor along with additional salivary cortisol samples. Results: A typical pattern of cortisol secretion was demonstrated on both days and exposure to the laboratory stressor was associated with the expected increases in cortisol, heart rate, blood pressure and negative mood. However, significant differences in the cortisol awakening response were observed between the two days with a greater response evident on the day of the anticipated laboratory stressor. Discussion: The cortisol awakening response has been associated with a variety of psychosocial variables; however, elevated responses are typically associated with the experience of challenging stress. The current findings support the notion that the cortisol awakening response is associated with anticipation of the forthcoming demands required of the individual. In this case, the upcoming day involved an atypical, but anticipated stressful challenge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014
EventBritish Psychological Society 2014 Division of Health Psychology Annual Conference - York, UK
Duration: 1 Sep 2014 → …
http://www.bps.org.uk/

Conference

ConferenceBritish Psychological Society 2014 Division of Health Psychology Annual Conference
Period1/09/14 → …
Internet address

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