Ethnic differences in stress-induced cortisol responses:Increased risk for depression during pregnancy

Biol Psychol. 2019 Oct;147:107630. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.12.005. Epub 2018 Dec 19.


Few studies have examined individual differences in stress reactivity during pregnancy. The current study examined whether cortisol responses to a laboratory stressor (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST) significantly differed within an ethnically diverse sample of 34 pregnant women (38% Latina, 29% African American) identified to be at low (n = 17; i.e., low depressive symptoms) versus high risk for depression (n = 17; i.e., past history of depression and/or high depressive symptoms). Women at high depression risk, particularly those with a past history of depression, showed greater cortisol responses to the TSST than women at low depression risk, controlling for gestational age, parity, and education (p = 0.03). Moreover, African American women, particularly those at high depression risk, showed blunted cortisol responses to the TSST compared to non-African American women (p = 0.02). Our results highlight risk factors for depression during pregnancy and have strong implications for reducing health disparities in this population.

Keywords: Cortisol; Depression; Ethnicity; Pregnancy; Trier Social Stress Test.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • Depression / ethnology*
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans / psychology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / ethnology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone