Endocrine and emotional response to exclusion among women and men; cortisol, salivary alpha amylase, and mood

Liat Helpman, Julia Penso, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, Ruth Feldman, Eva Gilboa-Schechtman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Objectives: Social exclusion is ubiquitous and painful. Evolutionary models indicate sex differences in coping with social stress. Recent empirical data suggest different sex patterns in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) and sympathetic–adrenal–medullary (SAM) reactivity. The present study sought to test this hypothesis. Design: We examined differences in endocrine and emotional response to exclusion by using a virtual ball tossing paradigm (Cyberball). Saliva samples and mood ratings were collected to reflect levels before, and repeatedly following, exclusion. Methods: The sample included 21 women and 23 men. Cortisol and salivary alpha amylase (sAA), biomarkers of the HPA and SAM systems, respectively, were used as indices of two arms of stress response. Results: Following exclusion, all participants experienced mood worsening followed by mood improvement, with men reporting less distress than women. Women evinced decline in cortisol following the Cyberball task, whereas men’s cortisol levels showed a non-significant rise, and then decline, following exclusion. Conclusions: Our results concur with previous findings showing SAM reactivity to be gender-neutral and HPA reactivity to be gender-divergent. Additional studies are needed to examine sex-specific response to social exclusion. Implications for individual differences in recovery from stress are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-263
Number of pages11
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
Issue number3
StatePublished - 4 May 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was conducted with the assistance of the Israeli Science Foundation, Grant 455-10, awarded to Prof. Eva Gilboa-Schechtman, and is based on data collected in the Gilboa-Schechtman Lab as part of Liat Helpman's doctoral work. Dr. Helpman is currently supported by National Institute of Mental Helath (NIMH) grant T32-MH096724.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Sex-selection
  • gender
  • hormones
  • sex
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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