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The role of bicultural adaptation, familism, and family conflict in Mexican American adolescents’ cortisol reactivity


Scarce research has examined stress responsivity among Latino youths, and no studies have focused on the role of acculturation in shaping cortisol stress response in this population. This study assessed Mexican American adolescents' Mexican and Anglo cultural orientations and examined prospective associations between their patterns of bicultural orientation and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortisol reactivity to an adapted Trier Social Stress Test. The sample included 264 youths from a longitudinal birth cohort study who completed the Trier Social Stress Test and provided saliva samples at age 14. The youths completed assessments of cultural orientation at age 12, and family conflict and familism at age 14. Analyses testing the interactive effects of Anglo and Mexican orientation showed significant associations with cortisol responsivity, including the reactivity slope, peak levels, and recovery, but these associations were not mediated by family conflict nor familism values. Findings revealed that bicultural youth (high on both Anglo and Mexican orientations) showed an expected pattern of high cortisol responsivity, which may be adaptive in the context of a strong acute stressor, whereas individuals endorsing only high levels of Anglo orientation had a blunted cortisol response. Findings are discussed in relation to research on biculturalism and the trade-offs and potential recalibration of a contextually responsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis for acculturating adolescents.

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