Acute psychosocial stress: does the emotional stress response correspond with physiological responses?

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Aug;37(8):1111-34. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.12.010. Epub 2012 Jan 18.


Most stress experiences are accompanied by physiological and psychological responses. Laboratory stressors such as the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) induce reliable stress responses, which are mainly assessed for biological parameters such as cortisol. The associations between physiological and psychological responses to the TSST have been rarely investigated and are addressed in this review. Up to August 2011, 358 studies were published in PubMed examining the impact of the TSST (71%) or variations of the protocol. A total of 49 studies were considered based on the following three inclusion criteria: (1) exposure to the standard TSST or slightly modified TSST versions, (2) at least one assessment of subjective emotional stress experience before, during or after the TSST, (3) reported associations between acute physiological and emotional stress measures. Significant correlations between cortisol responses and perceived emotional stress variables were found in approximately 25% of the studies. Our descriptive analysis revealed various essential elements that potentially contribute to this apparent dissociation, reaching from differing assessment approaches and methodological features of the stress protocols to possible mediating factors and interindividual differences in the degree of psychophysiological correspondence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Personality / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Hydrocortisone