Previous research has demonstrated that before puberty, parents are able to buffer, and often completely block, cortisol responses to social evaluative stressors (e.g., Trier Social Stress Test; TSST). However, after puberty, parents no longer provide a powerful buffer of the HPA axis from a social-evaluative stressor. The current study investigates whether friends can buffer the HPA axis in both children and adolescents compared to parents and whether similar stress-ameliorating patterns can also be observed in oxytocin activity. A total of 109 participants (54 children ages 9-10 and 55 adolescents ages 15-16; approximately half of each sex) completed the TSST and were randomly assigned to prepare for their speech with their parent or friend for 5 minutes beforehand. Salivary cortisol and urinary oxytocin were measured before and after the TSST. For children, cortisol responses were comparable regardless of who helped the child prepare the speech. For adolescents, however, friends actually amplified the cortisol response compared to parents. In addition, adolescents produced less oxytocin than children, as did males compared to females. Notably, for boys, oxytocin levels decreased across the session if participants prepared with a friend rather than their parent. The mean change was in the same direction but not significant for girls. These results indicate that friends do not take over the social buffering role by age 15-16, which may inform interventions in at-risk children and adolescents.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2016. Major: Child Psychology. Advisor: Megan Gunnar. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 91 pages.
Social Stress Buffering by Friends in Childhood and Adolescence: Effects on HPA and Oxytocin Activity.
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