International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 532–539 | Cite as

Education Is Associated with the Magnitude of Cortisol Responses to Psychosocial Stress in College Students

  • Andrew W. Manigault
  • Alex Woody
  • Peggy M. ZoccolaEmail author
  • Sally S. Dickerson



Researchers benefit from controlling for individual differences that systematically account for variance in acute cortisol responses (e.g., sex). Similarly, some suggest that education could be used as a cortisol covariate because prior work found a negative relationship between education and the magnitude of acute cortisol responses in middle-aged adults. Nevertheless, education is seldom controlled for in tests of cortisol responses to acute stress, in part because the effect of education on acute cortisol responses has yet to be tested in a college sample. The present study therefore tested the relationship between education and cortisol responses to acute stress in college students.


Participants (124 healthy undergraduate students) self-reported education level and were subjected to a stressful speech task. Salivary cortisol was collected 0, + 15, + 25, + 40, and + 55 min post-stressor onset. Participant also completed a battery of questionnaires assessing individual differences, day-to-day demands, and stress-related appraisals.


Students in their fourth year of college education or above had significantly less curvilinear responses to the stress task relative to first-, second-, and third-year students.


The effect of education on cortisol responses previously found in middle-aged adults was replicated in college students. Future research may therefore benefit from controlling for education when analyzing acute cortisol responses in college samples.


Stress Reactivity Education Cortisol 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation [grant number BCS-0720066] and University of California, Irvine Academic Senate Council on Research, Computing, and Library Resources (to the last author). The funding source had no involvement in the study design, collection, analysis and interpretation of data, the writing of the report, or the decision to submit the article for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Informed consent was obtained from all participants, and the Institutional Review Board of University of California, Irvine, approved all procedures.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew W. Manigault
    • 1
  • Alex Woody
    • 2
  • Peggy M. Zoccola
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sally S. Dickerson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOhio UniversityAthensUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Behavioral Medicine ResearchThe Ohio State University College of MedicineColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyPace UniversityNew York CityUSA

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