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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007 Sep-Nov;32(8-10):1158-63. Epub 2007 Oct 24.

Education modulates cortisol reactivity to the Trier Social Stress Test in middle-aged adults.

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Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, Verdun, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H4H 1R3.


The present study assessed the modulating effect of education level on cortisol reactivity to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in a sample of 101 middle-aged adults (22 males, 79 females) between the ages of 50 and 65. The TSST involves a public speech and mental arithmetic task in front of an audience. No previous studies have assessed whether education level can have an impact on cortisol reactivity to this psychosocial stressor. It is plausible that greater exposure to academia may impact how one perceives and responds to the demands of the speech and arithmetic task. Should education have an impact on cortisol reactivity to the TSST, future studies will be required to control for this factor in order to reduce both statistical error and false interpretations. In addition to completing the TSST, participants were administered a battery of neurocognitive tests and personality questionnaires, including a report on education level (i.e. number of years total and degree: High School, Junior College, Technical, University). Results showed that adults with post-secondary education above Junior College tended to secrete higher cortisol levels overall, as measured by total area under the curve. However, it was the group with lower educational attainment who showed a greater stress response specific to the TSST, as measured by percentage increase in cortisol from pre- to post-TSST. Analyses also found that higher educated adults performed better than their less educated peers on verbal fluency. Considering that the TSST is an oral task, it is suggested that middle-aged individuals with a lower level of education may find the TSST more stressful due to lower verbal capacity, which may lead to an increased cortisol response to the TSST when compared to individuals with a higher level of education.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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