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Relationship of Salivary Alpha Amylase and Cortisol to Social Anxiety in Healthy Children Undergoing Laboratory Pain Tasks.

  • Author(s): Payne, LA
  • Hibel, LC
  • Granger, DA
  • Tsao, JCI
  • Zeltzer, LK
  • et al.
Abstract

Salivary alpha amylase (sAA) has been shown to be a sensitive and reliable marker of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) response to stress. A link between sAA, cortisol, and social/evaluative stress has been established in youth, but little is known about these relationships in response to other stressors in children, and how social anxiety might moderate these relationships. The current study explored the associations among sAA and salivary cortisol responses to laboratory pain tasks and self-reported social anxiety symptoms in a sample of healthy children.Two hundred thirty-one children (114 girls; 49.4%) with a mean age 12.68 years (SD=3.0; range 7-18) participated in the study. Participants completed self-report questionnaires prior to undergoing a series of laboratory pain tasks involving cold, pressure, and heat pain. Saliva samples were collected upon arrival to the laboratory (pre-task), following the completion of the pain tasks (post-task1), and 20 minutes after the completion of the pain tasks (post-task2).Demographic factors (age, sex, pubertal stage) did not predict either sAA or cortisol levels. However, children reporting higher levels of social anxiety demonstrated significantly higher sAA but not cortisol levels across three salivary collection times, compared to children reporting lower levels of social anxiety. Further, it does not appear that reduced state levels of anxiety before or during the tasks buffer this relationship.These data highlight the possibility of identifying biomarkers of stress that are consistent across time and developmental stage. sAA appears to be a marker of stress response in children with self-reported social anxiety. There may also be a potentially unique relationship of sAA to stress in this population. In addition, sAA may reflect stable individual differences in levels of ANS arousal and may be a useful biomarker for identifying children at risk for stress.

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