Pre-experience of social exclusion suppresses cortisol response to psychosocial stress in women but not in men.Horm Behav. 2010 Nov; 58(5):891-7.HB
Lack of social support and social exclusion is associated with adverse effects for mental and physical health. Additionally, women appear to be more vulnerable to social triggers of health disturbances. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenocortical-axis (HPA axis) might play a key role in this context as it has been shown both to relate to psychosocial conditions and health outcomes and to respond differentially depending on gender. In a previous experiment we found no effects of exclusion alone (operationalized via Cyberball) on cortisol secretion. Here we examine the effects of a social exclusion pre-experience on psychological and cortisol responses to a public speaking stressor. Subjects (33 m, 34 f) were randomly assigned to social exclusion (SE) or one of two control conditions (exclusion attributed to technical default (TD) and social inclusion (SI)). Afterwards salivary cortisol and psychological responses to a public speaking paradigm were assessed. Exclusion pre-treatment does not affect psychological responses to public speaking stress though with respect to cortisol significant. Cyberball by gender and Cyberball by gender by time interactions are found. SE-women show a blunted cortisol stress response to public speaking while cortisol responses of SE-men fall between SI-men and TD-men. Pre-experience of social exclusion leads to a blunted cortisol response to stress in women but not in men. This factor might contribute to the higher vulnerability to social triggers of health disturbances observed in women.