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The Role of Awakening Cortisol and Psychological Distress in Diurnal Variations in Affect: A Day Reconstruction Study

Michael Daly, Liam Delaney, Peter P. Doran and Malcolm MacLachlan
Additional contact information
Michael Daly: School of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin
Peter P. Doran: UCD Clinical Research Centre
Malcolm MacLachlan: School of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin; Centre for Global Health, Trinity College Dublin

No 201033, Working Papers from Geary Institute, University College Dublin

Abstract: People often feel unhappy in the morning but better later in the day, and this pattern may be amplified in the distressed. Past work suggests that one function of cortisol is to energize people in the mornings. In a study of 174 students we tested to see if daily affect patterns, psychological distress, and awakening cortisol levels were interlinked. Affect levels were assessed using the Day Reconstruction Method (Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2004) and psychological distress was measured using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (Antony, Bieling, Cox, Enns, & Swinson, 1998). On average positive affect increased markedly in a linear pattern across the day whilst negative affect decreased linearly. For the highly distressed this pattern was stronger for positive affect. Lower than average morning cortisol, as assessed by two saliva samples at waking and two samples 30 minutes after waking, predicted a clear increasing pattern of positive affect throughout the day. When we examined the interlinkages between affect patterns, distress, and cortisol our results showed that a pronounced linear increase in positive affect from morning through to evening occurred chiefly among distressed people with below average cortisol levels upon awakening. Psychological distress, whilst not strongly associated with morning cortisol levels, does appear to interact with cortisol levels to profoundly influence affect.

Keywords: Cortisol; Psychological Distress; Positive Affect; Diurnal Variation; Day Reconstruction Method (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 29 pages
Date: 2010-07-22
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-neu
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