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, 37 (2), 151-64

From "In the Air" to "Under the Skin": Cortisol Responses to Social Identity Threat

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From "In the Air" to "Under the Skin": Cortisol Responses to Social Identity Threat

Sarah S M Townsend et al. Pers Soc Psychol Bull.

Abstract

The authors examined women's neuroendocrine stress responses associated with sexism. They predicted that, when being evaluated by a man, women who chronically perceive more sexism would experience more stress unless the situation contained overt cues that sexism would not occur. The authors measured stress as the end product of the primary stress system linked to social evaluative threat-the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis. In Study 1, female participants were rejected by a male confederate in favor of another male for sexist reasons or in favor of another female for merit-based reasons. In Study 2, female participants interacted with a male confederate who they learned held sexist attitudes or whose attitudes were unknown. Participants with higher chronic perceptions of sexism had higher cortisol, unless the situation contained cues that sexism was not possible. These results illustrate the powerful interactive effects of chronic perceptions of sexism and situational cues on women's stress reactivity.

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Cortisol reactivity as a function of condition (sexist = 0, merit = 1) and chronic perceptions of sexism (mean centered) at (a) Time 2, (b) Time 3, and (c) Time 4 (i.e., stressor onset +20, 30, and 40 minutes, respectively). Graphed at +/−1 SD from chronic perceptions of sexism mean, controlling for perceptions of anxiety, depression, perceptions of personal control, day of menstrual cycle, number of minutes since waking, age, number of hormone reactivity influencing factors, and baseline cortisol (mean centered). *p ≤ .05. **p ≤ .01. ***p ≤ .001.

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