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Stress. 2007 Nov;10(4):362-7.

Negative affect as a predisposing factor for cortisol release after an acute stress--the impact of unpleasant priming.

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  • 1Institute of Biophysics Carlos Chagas Filho, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.


Glucocorticoids have a key role in stress responses. There are, however, substantial differences in cortisol reactivity among individuals. We investigated if affective trait and mood induction influence the reactivity to psychological stress in a group of 63 young adults, male (n=27) and female (n=36), aged ca. 21 years. On the experimental day the participants viewed either a block of pleasant or unpleasant pictures for 5 min to induce positive or negative mood, respectively. Then, they had 5 min to prepare a speech to be delivered in front of a video-camera. Saliva samples were collected to measure cortisol, and questionnaire-based affective scales were used to estimate emotional states and traits. Compared to basal levels, a cortisol response to the acute speech stressor was only seen for those who had first viewed unpleasant pictures and scored above the average on the negative affect scale. There were no sex differences. In conclusion, high negative affect associated with exposure to an unpleasant context increased sensitivity to an acute stressor, and was critical to stimulation of cortisol release by the speech stressor.

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