Neighborhood disadvantage and adolescent stress reactivity

Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Oct 12;6:277. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00277. eCollection 2012.


Lower socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with higher levels of life stress, which in turn affect stress physiology. SES is related to basal cortisol and diurnal change, but it is not clear if SES is associated with cortisol reactivity to stress. To address this question, we examined the relationship between two indices of SES, parental education and concentrated neighborhood disadvantage, and the cortisol reactivity of African-American adolescents to a modified version of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). We found that concentrated disadvantage was associated with cortisol reactivity and this relationship was moderated by gender, such that higher concentrated disadvantage predicted higher cortisol reactivity and steeper recovery in boys but not in girls. Parental education, alone or as moderated by gender, did not predict reactivity or recovery, while neither education nor concentrated disadvantage predicted estimates of baseline cortisol. This finding is consistent with animal literature showing differential vulnerability, by gender, to the effects of adverse early experience on stress regulation and the differential effects of neighborhood disadvantage in adolescent males and females. This suggests that the mechanisms underlying SES differences in brain development and particularly reactivity to environmental stressors may vary across genders.

Keywords: HPA axis; cortisol; neighborhood disadvantage; parental education; socioeconomic status; stress reactivity.