Refining the multisystem view of the stress response: Coordination among cortisol, alpha-amylase, and subjective stress in response to relationship conflict

Heidemarie K. Laurent, Sally I. Powers, Douglas A. Granger

32 Scopus citations


This study investigated associations among young adults' hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, autonomic nervous system activity, and subjective stress in response to interpersonal conflict to better characterize coordination across stress systems. Seven saliva samples were collected from 199 young adult opposite-sex couples before, during, and after they discussed an unresolved relationship conflict. Samples were later assayed for cortisol and alpha-amylase (sAA). Couples rated anticipatory stress prior to the conflict and perceived stress immediately following the task. Growth curve modeling was used to examine two possible levels of within-person coordination across physiological systems: alignment between cortisol and sAA responses throughout the sampling period ("matched phase coordination"), and association between overall levels of cortisol and sAA in response to conflict ("average level coordination"). Whereas both partners showed the former type of coordination, only women showed the latter type. Positive anticipation of the stressor predicted stronger cortisol-sAA matched phase coordination for women. Pre-task ratings related to women's sAA, and post-task ratings related to both partners' cortisol responses. Implications for a multisystem interpretation of normal and pathological responses to daily stress are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-60
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2 2013
Externally publishedYes



  • Alpha-amylase
  • ANS
  • Cortisol
  • Couples
  • HPA axis
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Philosophy

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