Asymmetry between salivary cortisol and α-amylase reactivity to stress: Relation to aggressive behavior in adolescents

Elana B. Gordis, Douglas A. Granger, Elizabeth J. Susman, Penelope K. Trickett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

316 Scopus citations


This study used a multiple physiological systems measurement approach to test the hypothesis that asymmetry between the major components of the psychobiology of stress is associated with atypical behavior in youth [Bauer, A.M., Quas, J.A., Boyce, W.T., 2002. Associations between physiological reactivity and children's behavior: advantages of a multisystem approach. J. Dev. Behav. Pediatr. 23, 102-113]. Adolescents (N=67; ages 10-14; 52% male) provided 2 saliva samples before, and 4 samples after, a modified Trier Social Stress Test (TSST; Kirschbaum, C., Pirke, K., Hellhammer, D.H., 1993. The "Trier Social Stress Test": a tool for investigating psychobiological stress responses in a laboratory setting. Neuropsychobiology 28, 76-81). Samples were assayed for cortisol (C) and α-amylase (A-A), a surrogate marker of sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity. Parents/guardians and adolescents reported on adolescents' aggressive behavior. Both salivary A-A and C increased in response to the TSST, with a peak response for A-A immediately post-TSST and for C 10 min post-TSST. A-A and C stress reactivity were estimated using area under the curve (AUC). Asymmetrical C and A-A reactivity accounted for 7% of the variance in parent-reported adolescent aggression. At lower levels of A-A reactivity, lower C reactivity corresponded to higher aggression ratings, but at high A-A reactivity levels, C reactivity was not related to aggression. These results support the hypothesis of Bauer et al. and underscore the importance of a multiple systems measurement approach in biosocial models of adolescent aggression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)976-987
Number of pages12
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Aggression
  • Cortisol
  • HPA axis
  • Salivary α-amylase
  • Sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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