Co-activation of SAM and HPA responses to acute stress: A review of the literature and test of differential associations with preadolescents’ internalizing and externalizing

Martha E. Wadsworth, Amanda V. Broderick, John E. Loughlin-Presnal, Jason J. Bendezu, Celina M. Joos, Jarl A. Ahlkvist, Sarah E.D. Perzow, Ashley McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Understanding co-activation patterns of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and sympathetic adrenal medullary (SAM) during early adolescence may illuminate risk for development of internalizing and externalizing problems. The present study advances empirical work on the topic by examining SAM-HPA co-activation during both the reactivity and recovery phases of the stress response following acute stress exposure. Fourth and fifth grade boys and girls (N = 149) provided cortisol and alpha-amylase via saliva at seven times throughout a 95-min assessment in which they were administered the modified Trier Social Stress Test. Parents reported on adolescents’ life stress, pubertal development, medication use, and externalizing problems. Adolescents reported their own internalizing symptoms. Multiple linear regressions tested both direct and interactive effects of SAM and HPA reactivity and recovery on internalizing and externalizing problems. Results from these analyses showed that whereas SAM and HPA reactivity interacted to predict internalizing symptoms, it was their interaction during the recovery phase that predicted externalizing. Concurrent high SAM and HPA reactivity scores predicted high levels of internalizing and concurrently low SAM and HPA recovery scores predicted high levels of externalizing. Implications of the findings for further study and clinical application are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1079-1093
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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