Rumination and Cortisol Responses to Laboratory Stressors

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Objective:For some, a stressor’s psychological and physiological influence ceases on removal; for others, the effects may persist through rumination. These repetitive, intrusive thoughts might prolong physiological stress responses. Previous studies produced mixed results, indicating a need to clarify the relationship between rumination and cortisol responses. The current study investigated whether a laboratory speech task is sufficient to elicit rumination and whether those who ruminated in response to the speech task have elevated cortis of responses. Additionally, whether trait depressive rumination follows a similar pattern was examined. It was hypothesized that those delivering speeches in a social-evaluative context would experience more posttask rumination and that greater posttask rumination would predict elevated cortisol responses.Methods:Eighty-nine participants performed a speech in front of an evaluative panel (SET) or in one of two nonexplicitly evaluative conditions. Participants indicated the frequency of the thoughts they experienced during a 10-minute rest period after the speech as a measure of posttask rumination. Salivary cortisol was collected at five time points throughout the session.Results:The SET condition elicited more posttask rumination than the nonexplicitly evaluative conditions. Posttask rumination was associated with amplified and prolonged elevations in cortisol across all conditions. Trait depressive rumination was associated with blunted cortisol responses in the SET condition. There was no association between trait depressive rumination and cortisol responses in the nonexplicitly evaluative conditions.Conclusion:Results suggest that the nature of the relationship between cortisol activation and rumination may be contingent on how rumination is conceptualized and measured.HPA = hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical; SET = social-evaluative threat; neSET = nonexplicitly evaluative; RSQ-22 = 22-item Rumination Subscale of the Responses Style Questionnaire; TQ = Thoughts Questionnaire; ELISA = enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

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