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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 May;35(4):588-95. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.09.015. Epub 2009 Oct 23.

Attentional orienting toward social stress stimuli predicts increased cortisol responsivity to psychosocial stress irrespective of the early socioeconomic status.

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Douglas Institute Research Centre, McGill University, 6875 LaSalle Boulevard, Montreal, Quebec H4H 1R3, Canada.


The principal aim of the study was to examine how the natural tendency to shift attention toward or away from social stress stimuli during a restful state, relates to the magnitude of cortisol elicited in response to a stressful context. It also assessed whether any relationship that did emerge between attentional biases and cortisol responsivity would be associated with the childhood socioeconomic status (SES). Twenty-five healthy normal controls rested for 45min during which time they completed an adaptation of Posner's attentional orienting paradigm comprising social stress words as cues. Immediately following, participants were exposed to a public stressful speech task adapted from the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Results indicated that a rapid attentional engagement in the direction of social stress words prior to stress exposure related to a pronounced cortisol response to the stress task, while a slow attentional engagement toward social stress words was related to a weak cortisol response to the stress task. It was also found that fast engagers of social stress information displayed lower self-esteem than slow engagers. Groups did not differ in terms of their reported past SES. These findings demonstrate that attentional biases for social stress stimuli at rest predict the magnitude of cortisol likely to be elicited in response to a subsequent stressor. A natural tendency to rapidly shift attention toward social stress-related information may be the driving force behind cortisol reactivity when handling psychological forms of stress, independent of the early SES environment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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