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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1997 Nov;22(8):615-25.

Increasing correlations between personality traits and cortisol stress responses obtained by data aggregation.

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Center for Psychobiological and Psychosomatic Research, University of Trier, Germany.


Attempts to link personality traits and cortisol stress responses have often been inconclusive. The aim of this paper was to investigate this association by aggregating cortisol stress responses. Therefore, 20 healthy men were exposed to a task consisting of public speaking and mental arithmetics in front of an audience on five days. Six cortisol levels were measured in relation to the stressful task obtained at 10-min intervals on each day. Psychological assessment included the Questionnaire for Competence and Control (FKK) and the Giessen-Test (G-T). These questionnaires focus on assessing personality traits, i.e. locus of control and self-concept. Areas under the response curve (AUC) of the six cortisol samples were computed to obtain an index of the individual's cortisol stress response on each day. Since novelty is a random situational factor likely to mask individual differences in the stress response, the AUC cortisol stress responses of days two to five were consecutively aggregated, excluding the first day. Scales of the two questionnaires employed did not correlate with the AUC cortisol stress response of the first stress trial. The correlation pattern of the AUC cortisol measures of days two to five with the questionnaire scales was inconclusive. However, significant correlations emerged with an increasing number of cortisol stress responses aggregated. Correlations between the measure of social dominance and aggregated AUC cortisol stress responses rose from r = -.47 on day two of the experimental session to r = -.70 after aggregating days two to five. Similarly, measures of locus of control and cortisol stress responses became increasingly correlated with aggregation of several stress exposures. These data provide preliminary evidence for a relationship between questionnaire scales aiming at assessing personality traits and cortisol stress responses uncovered by repeated stress exposure and data aggregation. While novelty may mask the impact of personality on the cortisol stress response on the first exposure, differences in the ability to cope with the stressful situation may lead to different cortisol stress response patterns on subsequent stress exposures. With data aggregation, an association between the trait component of cortisol stress responses and questionnaire scales might be uncovered. For reliable investigation of correlations between personality variables and cortisol stress responses, repeated stress exposure and data aggregation is suggested.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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