Scientific article
Open access

Adult age differences in the psychophysiological response to acute stress

Published inPsychoneuroendocrinology, vol. 153, 106111
Publication date2023-07
First online date2023-04-11

Age-related differences in the psychophysiology of the acute stress response are poorly understood given the limited number of studies and the high heterogeneity of findings. The present study contributes by investigating age differences in both the psychological and physiological responses to acute stress in a sample of healthy younger (N = 50; 18-30; Mage = 23.06; SD = 2.90) and older adults (N = 50; 65-84; Mage = 71.12; SD = 5.02). Specifically, the effects of psychosocial stress (i.e., age-adapted Trier Social Stress Test) were investigated at numerous timepoints throughout the stress response phases (i.e., baseline, anticipation, reactivity, recovery) on cortisol, heart rate, subjective stress, and anticipatory appraisal of the stressful situation. The study was conducted in a between-subject (younger vs. older) cross-over (stress vs. control) design. Results revealed age-related differences in both physiological and psychological variables: older adults had overall lower salivary cortisol levels in the stress and control conditions and lower stress-induced cortisol increase (i.e., AUCi). In addition, older adults' cortisol reactivity was delayed compared to younger adults. Older adults showed a lower heart rate response in the stress condition while no age differences were observed in the control condition. Finally, older adults reported less subjective stress and a less negative stress appraisal during the anticipation phase than younger adults, which could potentially explain lower physiological reactivity in this age group. Results are discussed in relation to the existing literature, potential underlying mechanisms, and future directions for the field.

  • Stress response
  • TSST
  • Aging
  • Age differences
  • Cortisol
  • Appraisal
Citation (ISO format)
MIKNEVICIUTE, Greta et al. Adult age differences in the psychophysiological response to acute stress. In: Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2023, vol. 153, p. 106111. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2023.106111
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ISSN of the journal0306-4530

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