Differential relations between youth internalizing/externalizing problems and cortisol responses to performance vs. interpersonal stress.Stress. 2016 09; 19(5):492-8.S
Efforts to define hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis profiles conferring risk for psychopathology have yielded inconclusive results, perhaps in part due to limited assessment of the stress response. In particular, research has typically focused on HPA responses to performance tasks, while neglecting the interpersonal stressors that become salient during adolescence. In this study we investigated links between psychosocial adjustment - youth internalizing and externalizing problems, as well as competence - and HPA responses to both performance and interpersonal stressors in a normative sample of children and adolescents. Participants (n = 59) completed a set of performance (public speaking, mental arithmetic, mirror tracing) and/or interpersonal (peer rejection) tasks and gave nine saliva samples, which were assayed for cortisol. Hierarchical linear models of cortisol response trajectories in relation to child behavior checklist (CBCL) scores revealed stressor- and sex-specific associations. Whereas internalizing problems related to earlier peaking, less dynamic cortisol responses to interpersonal stress (across males and females), externalizing problems related to lower, earlier peaking and less dynamic cortisol responses to performance stress for males only, and competence-related to later peaking cortisol responses to interpersonal stress for females only. Implications for understanding contextual stress profiles underlying different forms of psychopathology are discussed.