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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Apr;35(3):430-41. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.08.005. Epub 2009 Sep 9.

Loneliness and cortisol: momentary, day-to-day, and trait associations.

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Cells to Society Center, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


In attempts to understand the social determinants of health, strong associations have been found between measures of loneliness, physiological stress processes, and physical and mental health outcomes. Feelings of loneliness are hypothesized to have implications for physiological stress processes, including activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In a community sample of young adults, multilevel modeling was used to examine whether trait and state feelings of loneliness were related to changes in levels of the stress-sensitive hormone cortisol, and whether the associations between loneliness and cortisol were mediated or moderated by the presence of concurrent depression or high levels of chronic life stress. Results indicated that trait loneliness was associated with a flattening of the diurnal cortisol rhythm. In addition, both daily and momentary state variations in loneliness were related to cortisol. Prior day feelings of loneliness were associated with an increased cortisol awakening response the next morning and momentary experiences of loneliness during the day were associated with momentary increases in cortisol among youth who also had high chronic interpersonal stress. Results were significant after covarying current depression, both chronic and momentary reports of stress, and medical and lifestyle covariates. This study expanded on prior work by investigating and revealing three different time courses of association between loneliness and HPA axis activity in young adults: trait, daily and momentary.

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