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Stigma Consciousness Modulates Cortisol Reactivity to Social Stress in Women


European Journal of Social Psychology

Published online on


Abstract The aim of the current study was to examine whether stigma consciousness shapes cortisol responses to social stress among women in the lab. Undergraduate women (N = 45) completed background measures and then participated in a public speaking task, with assessments of cortisol prior to the stressor as well as 20‐ and 40‐minutes post stressor onset. Results from multilevel models revealed that women higher in stigma consciousness evidenced blunted cortisol reactivity following social stress across the study session compared to women lower in stigma consciousness. This interaction was robust to adjustment for a number of covariates, including demographic (e.g., age), physiological (e.g., menstrual cycle) and psychological (e.g., depressive symptomatology) factors. Potential explanations for observed cortisol patterns are discussed, including hypo‐reactivity of the hypothalamic‐pituitary‐adrenal (HPA) axis and elevated anticipatory stress. To conclude, implications for health disparities research are considered.