Self-focus and social evaluative threat increase salivary cortisol responses to acute stress in men.

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Abstract or Description

This experiment tested the hypothesis that self-focused attention might increase cortisol release. Social self-preservation theory suggests that social evaluation and associated feelings of shame are associated with cortisol reactivity, whereas one implication of objective self-awareness theory is that self-critical awareness and associated feelings of anxiety might be associated with increases in cortisol. 120 participants completed a public speech task either in front of an evaluative panel (social threat), in a non-evaluative setting while watching themselves in real-time on a television (self-focus), or in the mere presence of a non-evaluative person (control). Cortisol increased comparably among men in the social threat and self-focus conditions, but not among men in the control condition. There were no effects for women. Shame was correlated with increased cortisol in the social threat condition, whereas anxiety was correlated with increased cortisol in the self-focus condition. One broad implication of this work is that negative evaluation may increase cortisol regardless of whether this source comes from oneself or others.




Published In

Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 35, 6, 624-633.