Children's and adults' salivary cortisol responses to an identical psychosocial laboratory stressor

Ilona S. Yim, Jodi A. Quas, Larry Cahill, Momoko Hayakawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Many studies have investigated hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses to psychosocial stress in adults. In children, much less is known about HPA axis reactivity, and a sizable number of studies has not detected a significant cortisol response. Moreover, there is a lack of studies comparing adults' and children's responses to identical stressors. The aim of the present study was to modify an existing laboratory stressor to serve as a potent stressor in children and to allow for direct comparison between children's and adults' stress responses. Thirty children, ages 9-12 (14 female), and 31 young adults, ages 18-25 (17 female), were exposed to the modified protocol (TSST-M). A significant increase in salivary cortisol was observed in response to the TSST-M, F(2.5, 125.4) = 19.65, p < .001, η2 = .28, and overall, no differences were found between children's and adults' responses, F(2.5, 125.4) = .31, n.s. Children and adults also showed similar changes in negative and positive affect, both F < 1.18, n.s. and reported a similar amount of distress during the TSST-M, F(1, 57) = .97, n.s. Children did, however, exhibit a significantly greater number of behaviors indicative of distress, F(1, 50) = 6.59, p = .01, η2 = .12. This study provides preliminary evidence that the TSST-M is a useful laboratory procedure to induce significant cortisol responses in children. It also suggests comparable responses in cortisol and self-reported affect in young adults and children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-248
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The present study was funded by a Multi-Investigator Faculty Research Grant from the University of California, Irvine (Yim, Quas, Cahill). This funding source had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Copyright 2010 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Behavior
  • Children
  • Cortisol
  • Emotion
  • Laboratory stressor
  • Stress


Dive into the research topics of 'Children's and adults' salivary cortisol responses to an identical psychosocial laboratory stressor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this