Relational victimization, friendship, and adolescents' hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis responses to an in vivo social stressor

Casey D. Calhoun, Sarah W. Helms, Nicole Heilbron, Karen D. Rudolph, Paul D. Hastings, Mitchell J. Prinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescents' peer experiences may have significant associations with biological stress-response systems, adding to or reducing allostatic load. This study examined relational victimization as a unique contributor to reactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses as well as friendship quality and behavior as factors that may promote HPA recovery following a stressor. A total of 62 adolescents (ages 12-16; 73% female) presenting with a wide range of life stressors and adjustment difficulties completed survey measures of peer victimization and friendship quality. Cortisol samples were collected before and after a lab-based interpersonally themed social stressor task to provide measures of HPA baseline, reactivity, and recovery. Following the stressor task, adolescents discussed their performance with a close friend; observational coding yielded measures of friends' responsiveness. Adolescents also reported positive and negative friendship qualities. Results suggested that higher levels of adolescents' relational victimization were associated with blunted cortisol reactivity, even after controlling for physical forms of victimization and other known predictors of HPA functioning (i.e., life stress or depressive symptoms). Friendship qualities (i.e., low negative qualities) and specific friendship behaviors (i.e., high levels of responsiveness) contributed to greater HPA regulation; however, consistent with theories of rumination, high friend responsiveness in the context of high levels of positive friendship quality contributed to less cortisol recovery. Findings extend prior work on the importance of relational victimization and dyadic peer relations as unique and salient correlates of adaptation in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-618
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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