Resting cortisol level, self-concept, and putative familial environment in adolescents at ultra high-risk for psychotic disorders

Emily E. Carol*, Vijay A. Mittal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


A growing body of evidence suggests that resting cortisol levels are elevated in patients with schizophrenia and closely tied to symptom severity. However, there is limited research on the biological stress system during the ultra high-risk (UHR) period immediately preceding the onset of psychosis, and cortisol has not been examined in relation to individual characteristics such as self-concept or potential stressors such as putative familial environment in this critical population. In the present study, salivary cortisol samples were collected on 37 UHR and 42 matched control adolescents, and these individuals were assessed with clinical interviews as well as a measure of self-concept. For a subsection of the sample (23 UHR and 20 control adolescents), a participating relative/caretaker was also assessed with an expressed emotion interview designed to gauge psychosocial environment. Consistent with previous studies, UHR participants exhibited elevated resting cortisol levels when compared with controls. In addition, UHR adolescents exhibited increased negative self-concept and their relatives/caretakers endorsed significantly fewer initial positive statements about the participant. Interestingly, a strong trend in the UHR group suggests that higher cortisol levels are associated with higher rates of critical statements from relatives/caretakers. Furthermore, elevated cortisol levels in the participants were associated with increased negative self-concept as well as fewer initial positive comments from relatives/caretakers. Results suggest that hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) dysfunction is closely associated with both individual and environmental-level characteristics. Taken together, these findings support a neural diathesis-stress model of psychosis and future studies, designed to examine causal relationships, stand to inform both our understanding of pathogenic processes in the high-risk period as well as early intervention efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-36
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Cortisol
  • Expressed emotion
  • HPA axis
  • High-risk
  • Prodrome
  • Schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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