College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Fall 11-23-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Jocelyn Smith, PhD

Second Advisor

Kathryn E. Grant, PhD


Stress affects people daily and can prove maladaptive to mental health if chronic or acute. Effective coping responses may mitigate the negative effects of intense or prolonged stress through physiological processes such as HPA axis activity. Previous research has found one specific coping dimension, engagement/disengagement, to be predictive of cortisol reactivity in response to lab-induced stressors. Sex and stress history also contribute to the relationship between coping and cortisol reactivity. However, these processes are not as well understood in adolescent populations and have not been explored across different types of stressors. The present study explored the relationship between coping and cortisol stress reactivity among a diverse sample of 379 adolescents (57.2% female, mean age = 14.99) exposed to four different lab-based stressor tasks. Sex and previous stress history were also analyzed for potential moderating effects. Participants completed questionnaires to assess pubertal development status, stress history, and coping usage. They also completed four different lab-based stress tasks and provided saliva samples to measure cortisol levels. Results showed that adolescents’ usage of coping strategies varied significantly by stress task. Greater usage of engagement coping was found to be predictive of cortisol peak, contrary to the hypothesis. Sex and stress history were found to affect coping and cortisol peaks in adolescents. Male adolescents who utilized more disengagement coping exhibited lower cortisol peaks. Greater stress history was associated with greater use of cognitive restructuring, rumination, and engagement coping. Findings from this study provide evidence that coping has a significant impact on cortisol peak in response to several stressors, and coping varies significantly based on the stressor. Sex and stress history are significant variables in the use of coping as well as cortisol peak. These results contribute to a greater understanding of the relationship between stress management and the physiological stress response in adolescents.

SLP Collection


Included in

Psychology Commons