Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis irregularities have been associated with several psychological disorders. Hence, the identification of individual difference variables that predict variations in HPA-axis activity represents an important challenge for psychiatric research. We investigated whether self-reported attentional control in emotionally demanding situations prospectively predicted changes in diurnal salivary cortisol secretion following exposure to a prolonged psychosocial stressor. Low ability to voluntarily control attention has previously been associated with anxiety and depressive symptomatology. Attentional control was assessed using the Emotional Attentional Control Scale. In students who were preparing for academic examination, salivary cortisol was assessed before (time 1) and after (time 2) examination. Results showed that lower levels of self-reported emotional attentional control at time 1 (N=90) predicted higher absolute diurnal cortisol secretion and a slower decline in cortisol throughout the day at time 2 (N=71). Difficulty controlling attention during emotional experiences may lead to chronic HPA-axis hyperactivity after prolonged exposure to stress. These results indicate that screening for individual differences may foster prediction of HPA-axis disturbances, paving the way for targeted disorder prevention.
- Emotional attentional control
- Cortisol awakening response
- Diurnal cortisol
- Longitudinal study
- Individual differences