Psychological and cortisol reactivity to experimentally induced stress in adults with ADHD

Sivan Raz, Dmitry Leykin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations

Abstract

Individuals with ADHD suffer from increased vulnerability to environmental and mental stressors and may be at increased risk for chronic stress in everyday life. The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis is a critical physiological system that mediates responses to stress. The present study seeks to examine test performance, test anxiety, self-reported psychological stress and cortisol reactivity to mental-cognitive stress in adults with ADHD when compared with healthy controls. Stress was induced by an arithmetic ability test. Psychological stress was assessed repeatedly throughout the experimental session. Salivary cortisol, an indicator of the HPA axis function, was evaluated immediately upon arrival, as well as 1. min and 20. min post-test completion. Results revealed higher levels of test anxiety and poorer performance on the test in the ADHD group. The ADHD and control groups showed no difference in base-line levels of subjective stress and in subjective stress levels 20. min after the test. In contrast, individuals with ADHD reported significantly higher levels of stress at the test anticipation phase and 1. min post-test completion. Cortisol response to stress differed according to group: in the ADHD group, 20. min post-test cortisol levels were significantly higher than base-line cortisol levels. This was not evident in the control group. These results suggest greater activation of the HPA axis in response to stress in adults with ADHD when compared with healthy controls. Adults with ADHD do not differ from controls in basal levels of subjective stress and cortisol, but do have stronger psychophysiological reactions in response to stressful challenges. The present findings are among the first to demonstrate significant alterations in cortisol reactivity to stress in adults with ADHD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-17
Number of pages11
JournalPsychoneuroendocrinology
Volume60
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2015

Keywords

  • ADHD
  • Adults
  • Cortisol reactivity
  • HPA axis
  • Psychological stress
  • Test anxiety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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