Salivary alpha amylase and cortisol responses to different stress tasks: impact of sex

Int J Psychophysiol. 2008 Jul;69(1):33-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.02.008. Epub 2008 Mar 5.


Neuro-endocrine markers such as salivary alpha amylase (sAA) and cortisol (CORT) play an important role in establishing human responses to stressful events. Whereas sAA levels reflect sympathetic system activity, salivary cortisol appears to be a valid measure for HPA axis activity. Although many studies looked at either sAA or CORT responses in reaction to stress, work still has to be done to look at the way these systems interact, especially when both systems are activated. Additionally, sex effects in CORT responses have been investigated relatively often, but possible sex differences in sAA levels and responses, or the way both systems interact has not been the focus of sufficient studies to yield a univocal conclusion. In this study we presented a group of healthy participants (n=80) with two mildly stressful tasks, consisting of an aversive picture rating task and a cold pressor stress (CPS) task. The second task was compared with a control task. We expected a rise in sAA level in response to the first task and sAA as well as CORT responses on the second task and explored the interaction between the two responses. Results indicate that sAA is indeed a sensitive marker in both psychologically and physically induced arousal paradigms, whereas a cortisol response was only observed in the CPS task. Men had higher sAA levels than women during the complete course of the study, but men and women were comparable in their responsivity to the tasks. No strong correlations between sAA and CORT responses were found.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cold Temperature / adverse effects
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Immunoassay
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Regression Analysis
  • Saliva / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stress, Psychological / classification
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Time Factors
  • alpha-Amylases / metabolism*


  • alpha-Amylases
  • Hydrocortisone