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Adolescent Personality: Associations With Basal, Awakening, and Stress-Induced Cortisol Responses

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  • This research is part of the TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS). Participating centers of TRAILS include various departments of the University Medical Center and University of Groningen, the Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, Utrecht University, the Radboud Medical Center Nijmegen, and the Parnassia Bavo group, all in the Netherlands. TRAILS has been financially supported by various grants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research NWO (Medical Research Council program grant GB-MW 940-38-011; ZonMW Brainpower grant 100-001-004; ZonMw Risk Behavior and Dependence grants 60-60600-97-118; ZonMw Culture and Health grant 261-98-710; Social Sciences Council medium-sized investment grants GB-MaGW 480-01-006 and GB-MaGW 480-07-001; Social Sciences Council project grants GB-MaGW 452-04-314 and GB-MaGW 452-06-004; NWO large-sized investment grant 175.010.2003.005; NWO Longitudinal Survey and Panel Funding 481-08-013), the Dutch Ministry of Justice (WODC), the European Science Foundation (EuroSTRESS project FP-006), Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure BBMRI-NL (CP 32), the participating universities, and Accare Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. We are grateful to all adolescents, their parents and teachers who participated in this research, and everyone who worked on this project and made it possible. This article has benefited from thoughtful comments by Jaap Koolhaas, Harriette Riese, Judith Rosmalen, and Elizabeth Shirtcliff on the conceptual definitions of the various cortisol indices.

Abstract

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the associations between personality facets and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning. Previous studies have mainly focussed on stress-induced HPA-axis activation. We hypothesized that other characteristics of HPA-axis functioning would have a stronger association with personality based on the neuroendocrine literature. Data (n = 343) were used from the TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS), a large prospective cohort study of Dutch adolescents. We studied the association between facets of Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness and basal cortisol, the cortisol awakening response (CAR), and four measures of stress-induced HPA-axis activity. Basal cortisol levels were related to facets of all three personality traits. The CAR and stress-induced cortisol were not related to personality. Possibly due to its more trait-like nature, basal cortisol seems more informative than stress-induced cortisol when investigating trait-like characteristics such as personality facets.

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