Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Cortisol is a stress hormone secreted during activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a system within the body that shows increased activation in response to stress. Cortisol is often assumed to be related to anxiety. However, previous research on the relationship between cortisol and anxiety is mixed. The present research examined the moderating effects of sex differences and estrogen on the relationship between cortisol reactivity and anxiety. Participants (n = 54) completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and completed measures of anxiety. Consistent with previous research, it was hypothesized that men will exhibit increased cortisol reactivity compared to women. It was also hypothesized that sex will moderate the relationship between cortisol reactivity and anxiety. It was further hypothesized that cortisol reactivity will relate to trait anxiety in women. Finally, it was hypothesized that estrogen will moderate this effect in women. As hypothesized, men exhibited greater cortisol reactivity in response to the TSST than women. The relationships between state and trait anxiety measures and cortisol reactivity were marginally significant in women, but no relationships were seen in men. Sex significantly moderated the relationship between state anxiety and cortisol reactivity, but estradiol did not. These results suggest that men and women may react differently to stress physiologically, but it is still unclear if this is due to social or biological factors. Implications for further research are discussed.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Catherine DeSoto, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 58 pages)



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