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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2011 Feb;37(2):151-64. doi: 10.1177/0146167210392384.

From "in the air" to "under the skin": cortisol responses to social identity threat.

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University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


The authors examined women's neuroendocrine stress responses associated with sexism. They predicted that, when being evaluated by a man, women who chronically perceive more sexism would experience more stress unless the situation contained overt cues that sexism would not occur. The authors measured stress as the end product of the primary stress system linked to social evaluative threat-the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis. In Study 1, female participants were rejected by a male confederate in favor of another male for sexist reasons or in favor of another female for merit-based reasons. In Study 2, female participants interacted with a male confederate who they learned held sexist attitudes or whose attitudes were unknown. Participants with higher chronic perceptions of sexism had higher cortisol, unless the situation contained cues that sexism was not possible. These results illustrate the powerful interactive effects of chronic perceptions of sexism and situational cues on women's stress reactivity.

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