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Journal Article

Associations of diurnal cortisol parameters with cortisol stress reactivity and recovery: A systematic review and meta-analysis


Engert,  Veronika       
Institute of Psychosocial Medicine, Psychotherapy, and Psycho-Oncology, Jena University Hospital, Germany;
Research Group Social Stress and Family Health, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
German Center for Mental Health (DZPG), Germany;

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Wesarg-Menzel, C., Marheinecke, R., Staaks, J., & Engert, V. (2024). Associations of diurnal cortisol parameters with cortisol stress reactivity and recovery: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 163: 106976. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2024.106976.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000E-5206-F
Researchers commonly assess the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis by measuring natural fluctuations of its end product cortisol throughout the day or in response to a standardized stressor. Although it is conceivable that an individual releasing relatively more cortisol when confronted with a laboratory stressor does the same in everyday life, inconsistencies remain in the literature regarding associations between diurnal cortisol parameters and cortisol stress responses. Hence, the current meta-analysis aggregated findings of 12 studies to examine overall associations of diurnal cortisol parameters (including total output, diurnal slope, and cortisol awakening response [CAR]) with cortisol stress reactivity and recovery in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). There were no significant overall associations of total output, slope, or CAR with stress reactivity. Lower total diurnal cortisol output was significantly related to better stress recovery, whereas diurnal slope and CAR were unrelated to stress recovery. Moderation analyses revealed that associations between diurnal cortisol and cortisol stress responses were dependent on the computation method of cortisol parameters, questioning the convergence and validity of commonly employed measures of stress reactivity and recovery. Overall, it seems that we cannot predict characteristics of the diurnal cortisol rhythm from a one-time measure of stress reactivity in a standardized psychosocial laboratory paradigm.