Anger and fear responses to stress have different biological profiles

Brain Behav Immun. 2010 Feb;24(2):215-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2009.08.009. Epub 2009 Sep 2.


In contrast to a general model of stress, a functional model suggests that emotions may regulate stress responses in specific adaptive ways. The current study examined whether anger and fear during a challenging stress task (Trier Social Stress Task) were differentially associated with cortisol and proinflammatory cytokine responses to an acute stressor. Baseline anger and fear were related to greater cortisol and proinflammatory cytokines. However, anger reactions to the stressor were associated with greater stress-related increases in cortisol over time but not proinflammatory cytokines. In contrast, fear reactions to the stressor were associated with increases in stress-related proinflammatory cytokines over time and a decrease in cortisol. Results are consistent with the functional perspective that distinct emotional experiences appear to trigger temporally-patterned adaptive biological processes to mobilize energy in response to anger and to promote withdrawal in response to fear. Discussion focuses on the role of the HPA axis to increase available metabolic fuel and proinflammatory cytokines to prompt behavioral withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anger / physiology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Social Environment
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / biosynthesis
  • Young Adult


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Hydrocortisone