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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1993;18(1):23-35.

Cortisol reaction in success and failure condition in endogenous depressed patients and controls.

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Department of Psychology, University of Giessen, Germany.


The authors studied differences in cortisol response to controllable and uncontrollable stress and its relationship to Seligman's theory of learned helplessness in hospitalized unipolar depressed patients (11 nontreated, acutely depressed; 11 treated patients) and 11 age and sex matched controls hospitalized for traumatic surgery. Control and lack of control were achieved by induction of success and failure in a simple number addition test and applied in balanced order on 2 consecutive days. Saliva cortisol samples were collected before and after the test. No group differences in baseline cortisol levels were observed. Cortisol increased after uncontrollable and decreased after controllable stress in control patients, whereas cortisol decreased after both conditions in the acutely depressed group and less so in the treated group, although they were as emotionally upset after failure as controls. Thus, the normally observed ability of the neuroendocrine system to discriminate between controllable and uncontrollable stress deteriorates with increasing severity of depression.

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