Cortisol response to stress: The role of expectancy and anticipatory stress regulation

Horm Behav. 2020 Jan:117:104587. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2019.104587. Epub 2019 Oct 25.


An exacerbated physiological response to stress is associated with the development of stress-related disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety disorders). Recently, it has been proposed that individuals with high expectancies of being able to deal with stressful situations will activate regulatory mechanisms during the anticipation of the stressful event that would improve stress regulation. To test this hypothesis, 52 women in young adulthood (M = 21.06; SD = 2.58) anticipated and performed a laboratory-based stress task after receiving positive or negative bogus feedback on their abilities to deal with stressful events. Heart rate variability and salivary cortisol were assessed throughout the experimental protocol. Participants receiving positive bogus feedback (i.e., High Expectancy group) showed a more positive anticipatory cognitive stress appraisal (i.e., they anticipated the stress task as less threatening/challenging, and they perceived that they were more able to deal with it), and they showed a lower cortisol response to stress. Moreover, a more positive anticipatory cognitive stress appraisal was associated with better anticipatory stress regulation (indexed as less decrease in heart rate variability), leading to a lower cortisol response. Our results indicate that people with positive expectancy initiate mechanisms of anticipatory stress regulation that enhance the regulation of the physiological stress response. Expectancy and anticipatory stress regulation may be key mechanisms in the development and treatment of stress-related disorders.

Keywords: Anticipation; Cortisol; Expectancy; HRV; Stress; TSST.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone