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Prev Sci. 2017 Nov;18(8):923-931. doi: 10.1007/s11121-017-0759-3.

Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Reactivity to Acute Stress: an Investigation into the Roles of Perceived Stress and Family Resources.

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Department of Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences, University of Houston, 491 Farish Hall, Houston, TX, 77204, USA.
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University, Ames, IO, USA.
Department of Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences, University of Houston, 491 Farish Hall, Houston, TX, 77204, USA.
Graduate School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA.
Department of Psychology, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA, USA.


Rurally situated African Americans suffer from chronic exposure to stress that may have a deleterious effect on health outcomes. Unfortunately, research on potential mechanisms that underlie health disparities affecting the African American community has received limited focus in the scientific literature. This study investigated the relationship between perceived stress, family resources, and cortisol reactivity to acute stress. A rural sample of African American emerging adults (N = 60) completed a battery of assessments, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), and provided four samples of salivary cortisol: prior to receiving TSST instructions, prior to conducting the speech task, immediately following the TSST, and 15-20 min following the TSST. As predicted, cortisol levels increased in response to a controlled laboratory inducement of acute stress. Moreover, diminished levels of family resources were associated with blunted cortisol reactivity to acute stress. Of note, higher levels of perceived stress over the past month and being male were independently associated with lower levels of cortisol at baseline. Lack of family resources had a blunting relationship on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis reactivity. These findings provide biomarker support for the relationship between family resources-an indicator associated with social determinants of health-and stress physiology within a controlled laboratory experiment. Identifying mechanisms that work toward explanation of within-group differences in African American health disparities is both needed and informative for culturally informed prevention and intervention efforts.


African Americans; Cortisol; HPA axis; Health disparities; Stress

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