Sex and stress: Men and women show different cortisol responses to psychological stress induced by the Trier social stress test and the Iowa singing social stress test

J Neurosci Res. 2017 Jan 2;95(1-2):106-114. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23851.


Acute psychological stress affects each of us in our daily lives and is increasingly a topic of discussion for its role in mental illness, aging, cognition, and overall health. A better understanding of how such stress affects the body and mind could contribute to the development of more effective clinical interventions and prevention practices. Over the past 3 decades, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) has been widely used to induce acute stress in a laboratory setting based on the principles of social evaluative threat, namely, a judged speech-making task. A comparable alternative task may expand options for examining acute stress in a controlled laboratory setting. This study uses a within-subjects design to examine healthy adult participants' (n = 20 men, n = 20 women) subjective stress and salivary cortisol responses to the standard TSST (involving public speaking and math) and the newly created Iowa Singing Social Stress Test (I-SSST). The I-SSST is similar to the TSST but with a new twist: public singing. Results indicated that men and women reported similarly high levels of subjective stress in response to both tasks. However, men and women demonstrated different cortisol responses; men showed a robust response to both tasks, and women displayed a lesser response. These findings are in line with previous literature and further underscore the importance of examining possible sex differences throughout various phases of research, including design, analysis, and interpretation of results. Furthermore, this nascent examination of the I-SSST suggests a possible alternative for inducing stress in the laboratory. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: I-SSST; TSST; acute stress induction; music performance anxiety; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology


  • Hydrocortisone