Self-esteem change and diurnal cortisol secretion in older adulthood

Sarah Y. Liu, Carsten Wrosch*, Gregory E. Miller, Jens C. Pruessner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objective: Research suggests that self-esteem can decline in older adulthood. This process could remove a buffer that normally protects individuals against distress-related changes in cortisol secretion. We examined this possibility by testing whether change in self-esteem would predict alterations in cortisol secretion, particularly among older adults who reported high levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress. Methods: 147 older adults (aged 60+) completed three days of diurnal cortisol measurements at three different time points, namely every two years over a total period of four years. Measures of self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and perceived stress were assessed at T1 and T2. Potential demographic and health-related confounds were measured at baseline (partnership status, SES, mortality risk index, and medication). Results: Linear regression models indicated that a decline in self-esteem from T1 to T2 predicted elevated cortisol output (AUCG) from T2 to T3, F (1, 137)=8.09, β=-.25, R2=05, p=005. Interaction analyses revealed that this association was particularly strong among participants who experienced higher T1 or T2 levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress, +1SD: βs=-.34 to -.51, ps<.001, but not significant among their counterparts who reported relatively lower levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress, -1SD: βs=03 to 11, ps>.43. Conclusions: Declines in self-esteem represent a mechanism that contributes to higher levels of diurnal cortisol secretion if older adults experience psychological distress. Increases in self-esteem, by contrast, can ameliorate older adults' cortisol regulation in stressful circumstances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-120
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 2014


  • Depressive symptoms
  • Diurnal cortisol secretion
  • Older adulthood
  • Perceived stress
  • Self-esteem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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