Development and Psychopathology

Special Section Articles

Stress response and the adolescent transition: Performance versus peer rejection stressors

Laura R. Strouda1 c1, Elizabeth Fostera1, George D. Papandonatosa1, Kathryn Handwergera2, Douglas A. Grangera3, Katie T. Kivlighana4 and Raymond Niauraa1

a1 Brown University

a2 Tufts University

a3 Pennsylvania State University

a4 Johns Hopkins University


Little is known about normative variation in stress response over the adolescent transition. This study examined neuroendocrine and cardiovascular responses to performance and peer rejection stressors over the adolescent transition in a normative sample. Participants were 82 healthy children (ages 7–12 years, n = 39, 22 females) and adolescents (ages 13–17, n = 43, 20 females) recruited through community postings. Following a habituation session, participants completed a performance (public speaking, mental arithmetic, mirror tracing) or peer rejection (exclusion challenges) stress session. Salivary cortisol, salivary alpha amylase (sAA), systolic and diastolic blood pressure (SBP, DBP), and heart rate were measured throughout. Adolescents showed significantly greater cortisol, sAA, SBP, and DBP stress response relative to children. Developmental differences were most pronounced in the performance stress session for cortisol and DBP and in the peer rejection session for sAA and SBP. Heightened physiological stress responses in typical adolescents may facilitate adaptation to new challenges of adolescence and adulthood. In high-risk adolescents, this normative shift may tip the balance toward stress response dysregulation associated with depression and other psychopathology. Specificity of physiological response by stressor type highlights the importance of a multisystem approach to the psychobiology of stress and may also have implications for understanding trajectories to psychopathology.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Laura R. Stroud, Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown Medical School and The Miriam Hospital, Coro West, Suite 500, 1 Hoppin Street, Providence, RI 02903; E-mail:


This research was supported in part by an NIMH Career Development Award (K23 MH65443), a National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression Junior Investigator Award (to L.R.S.), and NCI Grant P50 CA84719. We are indebted to the mothers and children who participated in this study. We also thank Catherine Solomon, Stephanie Paton, Gia Fiore, and Vincent Capaldi for their assistance in data collection and management and Mary Curran and Becky Hamilton for biotechnical support. Finally, we thank Megan Gunnar for her comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Reagents and materials were supported in part by Salimetrics LLC (State College, PA).