Occupational role stress is associated with higher cortisol reactivity to acute stress

Wirtz, Petra H.; Ehlert, Ulrike; Kottwitz, Maria U.; La Marca, Roberto; Semmer, Norbert K. (2013). Occupational role stress is associated with higher cortisol reactivity to acute stress. Journal of occupational health psychology, 18(2), pp. 121-131. American Psychological Association 10.1037/a0031802

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We investigated whether occupational role stress is associated with differential levels of the stress hormone cortisol in response to acute psychosocial stress. Forty-three medication-free nonsmoking men aged between 22 and 65 years (mean ± SEM: 44.5 ± 2) underwent an acute standardized psychosocial stress task combining public speaking and mental arithmetic in front of an audience. We assessed occupational role stress in terms of role conflict and role ambiguity (combined into a measure of role uncertainty) as well as further work characteristics and psychological control variables including time pressure, overcommitment, perfectionism, and stress appraisal. Moreover, we repeatedly measured salivary cortisol and blood pressure levels before and after stress exposure, and several times up to 60 min thereafter. Higher role uncertainty was associated with a more pronounced cortisol stress reactivity (p = .016), even when controlling for the full set of potential confounders (p < .001). Blood pressure stress reactivity was not associated with role uncertainty. Our findings suggest that occupational role stress in terms of role uncertainty acts as a background stressor that is associated with increased HPA-axis reactivity to acute stress. This finding may represent a potential mechanism regarding how occupational role stress may precipitate adverse health outcomes.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Work and Organisational Psychology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy

UniBE Contributor:

Wirtz, Petra Hedwig and Semmer, Norbert


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




American Psychological Association




Claudia Zuccarella

Date Deposited:

24 Apr 2014 17:29

Last Modified:

11 Dec 2014 11:09

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:






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