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Job Strain and Anger Expression Predict Early Morning Elevations in Salivary Cortisol

Steptoe, Andrew DPhil; Cropley, Mark PhD; Griffith, Jayne PhD; Kirschbaum, Clemens PhD


Objective: The objectives of this study were to test the hypothesis that high job demands and low job control (job strain) are associated with elevated free cortisol levels early in the working day and with reduced variability across the day and to evaluate the contribution of anger expression to this pattern.

Methods: One hundred five school teachers (41 men and 64 women) classified 12 months earlier as high (N = 48) or low (N = 57) in job strain according to the demand/control model sampled saliva at 2-hour intervals from 8:00 to 8:30 hours to 22:00 to 22:30 hours on a working day. Anger expression was assessed with the Speilberger State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory, and negative affect was also measured.

Results: Free cortisol was significantly elevated at 8:00 to 8:30 hours in the high job strain group but not at later times of the day or evening. After adjustment for age and negative affect, cortisol was an average of 21.7% higher early in the working day in the high job strain group. This effect was significantly greater in high job strain teachers, who also reported high anger-out. The cortisol decline from morning to evening was greater in the high than low job strain individuals. Independently of job strain, women had a higher cortisol concentration at 8:00 to 8:30 hours than men, whereas cortisol concentration was greater in men than women in the middle of the working day between 12:00 and 16:30 hours.

Conclusions: Job strain is associated with elevated free cortisol concentrations early in the working day but not with reduced cortisol variability. The interaction with outward anger expression suggests that individual characteristics modulate the impact of chronic work stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system.

From the Department of Psychology (A.S., M.C., J.G.), St. George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, London, United Kingdom; and Department of Physiological Psychology (C.K.), University of Trier, Trier, Germany.

Received for publication June 2, 1999;

revision received July 26, 1999.

Address reprint requests to: Dr. Andrew Steptoe, Department of Psychology, St. George’s Hospital Medical School, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, United Kingdom.

Copyright © 2000 by American Psychosomatic Society
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