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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Aug;34(7):953-67. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.02.010. Epub 2009 Mar 24.

Stressor paradigms in developmental studies: what does and does not work to produce mean increases in salivary cortisol.

Author information

1
Institute of Child Development, 51 East River Road, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, United States. gunnar@umn.edu

Abstract

The stress response system is comprised of an intricate interconnected network that includes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. The HPA axis maintains the organism's capacity to respond to acute and prolonged stressors and is a focus of research on the sequelae of stress. Human studies of the HPA system have been facilitated enormously by the development of salivary assays which measure cortisol, the steroid end-product of the HPA axis. The use of salivary cortisol is prevalent in child development stress research. However, in order to measure children's acute cortisol reactivity to circumscribed stressors, researchers must put children in stressful situations which produce elevated levels of cortisol. Unfortunately, many studies on the cortisol stress response in children use paradigms that fail to produce mean elevations in cortisol. This paper reviews stressor paradigms used with infants, children, and adolescents to guide researchers in selecting effective stressor tasks. A number of different types of stressor paradigms were examined, including: public speaking, negative emotion, relationship disruption/threatening, novelty, handling, and mild pain paradigms. With development, marked changes are evident in the effectiveness of the same stressor paradigm to provoke elevations in cortisol. Several factors appear to be critical in determining whether a stressor paradigm is successful, including the availability of coping resources and the extent to which, in older children, the task threatens the social self. A consideration of these issues is needed to promote the implementation of more effective stressor paradigms in human developmental psychoendocrine research.

PMID:
19321267
PMCID:
PMC2692557
DOI:
10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.02.010
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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