Cortisol responses to a group public speaking task for adolescents: Variations by age, gender, and race

Camelia E. Hostinar, Mollie T. McQuillan, Heather J. Mirous, Kathryn E. Grant, Emma K. Adam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Laboratory social stress tests involving public speaking challenges are widely used for eliciting an acute stress response in older children, adolescents, and adults. Recently, a group protocol for a social stress test (the Trier Social Stress Test for Groups, TSST-G) was shown to be effective in adults and is dramatically less time-consuming and resource-intensive compared to the single-subject version of the task. The present study sought to test the feasibility and effectiveness of an adapted group public speaking task conducted with a racially diverse, urban sample of U.S. adolescents (N=. 191; 52.4% female) between the ages of 11 and 18 (M=. 14.4 years, SD=. 1.93). Analyses revealed that this Group Public Speaking Task for Adolescents (GPST-A) provoked a significant increase in cortisol production (on average, approximately 60% above baseline) and in self-reported negative affect, while at the same time avoiding excessive stress responses that would raise ethical concerns or provoke substantial participant attrition. Approximately 63.4% of participants exhibited an increase in cortisol levels in response to the task, with 59.2% of the total sample showing a 10% or greater increase from baseline. Results also suggested that groups of five adolescents might be ideal for achieving more uniform cortisol responses across various serial positions for speech delivery. Basal cortisol levels increased with age and participants belonging to U.S. national minorities tended to have either lower basal cortisol or diminished cortisol reactivity compared to non-Hispanic Whites. This protocol facilitates the recruitment of larger sample sizes compared to prior research and may show great utility in answering new questions about adolescent stress reactivity and development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-166
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • Adolescence
  • Cortisol
  • HPA axis
  • Public speaking
  • Reactivity
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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