Day-to-day dynamics of experience-cortisol associations in a population-based sample of older adults

Emma K. Adam*, Louise C. Hawkley, Brigitte M. Kudielka, John T. Cacioppo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

481 Scopus citations


In 156 older adults, day-to-day variations in cortisol diurnal rhythms were predicted from both prior-day and same-day experiences, to examine the temporal ordering of experience-cortisol associations in naturalistic environments. Diary reports of daily psychosocial, emotional, and physical states were completed at bedtime on each of three consecutive days. Salivary cortisol levels were measured at wakeup, 30 min after awakening, and at bedtime each day. Multilevel growth curve modeling was used to estimate diurnal cortisol profiles for each person each day. The parameters defining those profiles (wakeup level, diurnal slope, and cortisol awakening response) were predicted simultaneously from day-before and same-day experiences. Prior-day feelings of loneliness, sadness, threat, and lack of control were associated with a higher cortisol awakening response the next day, but morning awakening responses did not predict experiences of these states later the same day. Same-day, but not prior-day, feelings of tension and anger were associated with flatter diurnal cortisol rhythms, primarily because of their association with higher sameday evening cortisol levels. Although wakeup cortisol levels were not predicted by prior-day levels of fatigue and physical symptoms, low wakeup cortisol predicted higher levels of fatigue and physical symptoms later that day. Results are consistent with a dynamic and transactional function of cortisol as both a transducer of psychosocial and emotional experience into physiological activation and an influence on feelings of energy and physical well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17058-17063
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 7 2006


  • Loneliness
  • Psychological stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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