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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Conscientiousness and stress exposure and reactivity : a prospective study of adolescent females Murphy, Michael Liam


Objective: Conscientiousness is associated with physical health, but the mechanisms remain poorly understood. To explore the role that stress might play, this study followed young women over time to determine whether conscientiousness was associated with their exposure and reactivity to life stress. Methods: One hundred and thirty-three healthy adolescent females aged 15-19 completed a measure of conscientiousness at study entry. Every 6 months for 2.5 years they underwent a structured interview to catalogue episodic and chronic forms of stress from a contextual perspective. To measure stress reactivity blood was drawn at each visit and was used to quantify circulating levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) as a marker of systemic inflammation. Ex vivo leukocyte IL-6 responses to endotoxin and glucocorticoid sensitivity were also measured. Results: Regarding exposure, participants who were higher in conscientiousness experienced less severe stressful episodic events that they played a role in causing. They also had lower academic and interpersonal chronic stress throughout the study. In terms of reactivity, conscientious women became more resistant to the anti-inflammatory properties of glucocorticoids at times when they were experiencing relatively high levels of chronic interpersonal stress. Conclusions: Higher levels of conscientiousness may protect adolescent women from exposure to certain types of stress. However, when they do experience some forms of chronic stress, highly conscientious individuals showed increased resistance to glucocorticoids, which could place them at risk for inflammatory conditions.

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