Mind your thoughts: associations between self-generated thoughts and stress-induced and baseline levels of cortisol and alpha-amylase

Biol Psychol. 2014 Dec;103:283-91. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.10.004. Epub 2014 Oct 22.


Stress is a major health burden in today's society. Research shows that negative cognitive styles are associated with increased stress reactivity, low mood and accelerated cellular aging. Our study sought to unravel the relationship between the content of self-generated thoughts and psychosocial stress measured in terms of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic activity. Features of self-generated thoughts were assessed using thought sampling while participants performed cognitive tasks following a stress induction or in a baseline condition. More negatively toned emotional thoughts and more social temporal thoughts with a past focus were associated with increased cortisol and alpha-amylase levels, both after stress and at baseline. More social temporal thoughts with a future focus, on the other hand, had an overall attenuating effect on the levels of both stress markers. Our results indicate a fundamental link between the thoughts and stress levels we experience. Understanding the mechanisms governing this mind-body association may have important implications for understanding and counteracting the high incidence of stress-related disorders in today's society.

Keywords: Alpha-amylase; Cortisol; Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis; Mind wandering; Self-generated thoughts; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Salivary alpha-Amylases / analysis*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Salivary alpha-Amylases
  • Hydrocortisone